By Nan Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted September 1999
Summary: The third in the author's "Dagger" series, this story leads Lois on a mission to find Clark, who is missing and without his memory, while at the same time she's trying to foil a plan to assassinate a foreign prince. Can she find Clark in time to get some Super help?
This story is part of Nan Smith's "Dagger" series. See a list of all the stories in this series and get links.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Doppleganger. Need the previous story? Read Dagger's Edge.
This is the longest Lois and Clark story I have written to date, and a lot of input from other people went into it. I would first like to thank my husband, Chuck, who helped me figure out ways for Lois and/or Clark to accomplish things, and ingenious ways for circumstances to work out, when my inspiration failed, not to mention several technical details. Yvonne Connell contributed in several ways, from the unintentional naming of my Prince and his country to helping me work out a couple of important points of motivation for Clark. My thanks also go to Sheila, who contributed an idea, and some of the wording, to the beginning of my epilogue, which improved it tremendously.
A number of other persons also contributed feedback as this story unfolded on the message boards, and as a result it is more complete than it would otherwise have been, and, I think, a lot better. Thanks to Chief Pam, Irene, Wendy, Tank, Jeff Brogden, KathyR. and Cindy, and several others for whom I unfortunately have only user names to identify them, for their invaluable suggestions. The quality of this story is at least partially due to all of you.
Last of all, I should have credited my editor, Erin Klingler, a long time back, for her work on all of the stories I've sent to the Archive. Thanks, Erin. I couldn't have done it without you.
As always, the characters and recognizable settings in this story are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros. et al. The story is copyrighted to me.
It was snowing.
The figure of a man lying face down on the filthy pavement was almost hidden by the trash cans and garbage that festooned the walls of the narrow alley, but it had not gone unremarked. Two dark shapes crouched over it, methodically searching the pockets of his clothing.
"Nothin'!" one of them snarled, following the single word with a string of obscenities. He kicked the prone figure viciously in the side. "Not a thing!"
"Hey!" The larger man gave his companion a cuff. "Lay off!"
"Why? He ain't gonna care. Be dead in an hour, anyway."
"I said, 'lay off'." The other voice had become menacing.
"Okay, okay." The words were more of a grunt.
The figure beneath their hands stirred and groaned. The men pulled back and the larger of the two got to his feet. "C'mon."
"I said, 'C'mon'!" The second man was clearly used to giving orders. "He's got nothing we want."
The two figures vanished into the darkness.
The man on the ground stirred and groaned again, trying to brace himself on his forearms. His head was throbbing sickeningly and his stomach lurched. He dropped his head onto his arms and took deep breaths, trying to control the waves of nausea.
It seemed to go on for hours before the pain began to abate. Slowly, he dragged himself to a sitting position and leaned against the rough bricks of the building behind him. Snowflakes drifted lazily through the night air, whispering downward and brushing against his face like the lightest of moths' wings. Most of his clothing was already thinly coated with a dusting of frost.
After an unmeasured time of floating in a half-conscious haze, he began to notice more detail. How he had gotten here was a blank. His coat was gone, and the front of his shirt torn and stained with streaks of blood, although he seemed to have sustained little if any visible damage. He must have been assaulted; that was the only explanation. He was the victim of a mugging.
But, where was he? And, for that matter, *who* was he?
The realization hit him like a bolt of lightning. He had no idea who he was, or where he lived. He had no memory.
For a time he simply sat there, staring into the darkness of the alley. It was hard to think with his head pounding this way, the blood surging in his ears with every beat of his heart. He tried to push himself to his feet, but the world swam crazily and the effort caused the pain to worsen; he began to retch helplessly.
Sometime later he awoke again. It was still dark; the faint glow of the streetlights was blurred by the dancing snow, which had thickened considerably. At least an inch of the stuff coated his body, but he wasn't cold. Wasn't that supposed to be a warning sign of some sort? He couldn't remember. At least the pain had faded to a dull ache in his temples and the back of his skull. His eyeballs no longer felt as if they were on fire.
Reflexively, he felt in his pockets. Nothing. No article by which he could identify himself. Only a pair of battered glasses, a long crack across one lens, lay on the pavement beside him. He picked them up with shaking fingers, and almost automatically put them on. Somehow they felt right, familiar.
Slowly and cautiously he boosted himself to his feet, bracing himself against the rough surface of the wall behind him. The throbbing in his head increased slightly, but it was nothing like it had been before. It didn't matter, anyway. He couldn't stay here. Somehow, he needed to find help, needed to warn…
To warn who? There was danger; somehow he knew that much, but what it might be, or from whence it came, or for whom, he didn't know. Only that there was danger.
How could he know who to trust? The answer was simple. He couldn't. He must find a place to conceal himself until he could recover and decide what to do. That decision made, he tottered toward the street, one hand against the wall, a single thought in his mind. He had to find somewhere to hide.
Forty hours ago:
"Clark, It just isn't reasonable. Museums do *not* get robbed that often! They have security guards, and alarms, and…" Lois Lane was in full sail as she charged out of the elevator and headed down the ramp into the busy newsroom of the Daily Planet, followed more slowly by her husband of two months. Clark Kent watched her with affectionate admiration. Mad Dog Lane had a bone between her teeth and wasn't about to let go until she was satisfied that she'd gotten everything there was to get from it.
"There *is* such a thing as coincidence," Clark said mildly. "It has been known to happen."
"I don't believe it," Lois said. "And I don't think you really do, either. Do you?"
"No." Clark reached the foot of the ramp, well behind his energetic wife. It often amazed him that she packed so much energy into her petite body. It wasn't for nothing that he called her his little tornado; a hundred and ten pounds of sheer determination, with dark hair, brown eyes and more drive than any three other women put together. He was immensely proud of her.
"All right, then." Lois dropped her purse on the floor beside her chair. "So where do we go from here?"
"I'd say we need some background on Dr. Abbott, for starters. I wonder how *many* items have disappeared from the museum while he's been the director?"
"Jimmy!" Lois snagged the newsroom's young resident computer expert by the sleeve as he went past, a box of donuts in one hand and a computer printout in the other.
"Oops! Look out!" Jimmy almost lost his grip on the donuts. Clark grabbed them.
"Got 'em. Are these for Perry?"
"Some of them are. Gosh, that was fast, CK"
"No problem. Why don't you get rid of this stuff, then come back. Lois and I need you to do a little research."
"Man," Jimmy was saying, a few hours later. "I don't know how you come up with these things."
"I take it you have some results?" Clark looked up from his computer screen where he was putting the finishing touches on the latest Superman rescue.
"Do I ever!" Jimmy looked awed. "You and Lois were really onto something. In the first place, I checked Dr. Abbott's background. It looked pretty good at first. He's 56 years old, clean background, not even a parking ticket. He's been married twenty-four years, has three kids. I started to think you were on the wrong track until I checked his financial records."
"What about them?" Lois asked.
"He's heavily in debt. Gambling. About four years ago he started running up a pretty big bill, and the people holding his I.O.U.s aren't very nice. Rumored ties to Intergang, but nobody's been able to prove anything, so far."
"I don't think I envy this guy," Clark said. "Anything else?"
"That's just the beginning, CK! I hacked into the museum's records and matched them up against their shipping company's records. There are tracks all over the place! I guess nobody's ever noticed before, but if they ever start checking, well…" Jimmy drew a finger across his throat.
"Like what?" Lois asked, a little impatiently, but Jimmy didn't notice.
"Well, there's stuff Dr. Abbott signed for in the shipping company records that doesn't show up on the museum's inventory at all—they just disappeared! So I checked the museum's outgoing stuff. There are things marked as having been shipped that aren't on the shipping company's records, and some stuff they supposedly sent to other museums that have different destinations in the records. A lot of them went to this one company…" Jimmy checked his printout. "Uh…Smith and Brown Ltd. I did some digging and it turns out that it's a subsidiary of Caribbean Imports, which is based in the Cayman Islands…what's the matter?"
"Caribbean Imports!" Clark's voice was louder than he'd intended. "Wasn't that the company that owned that cargo ship…?"
"The one that blew up in Metropolis Harbor just about a year and a half ago," Lois filled in for him. "Superman and I found out they'd been smuggling drugs…"
"That some employees were smuggling drugs," Clark corrected.
"So they said," Lois retorted, an edge of skepticism to her voice. "I wasn't convinced. I'm still not. The company gets off with a fine and a few lower level employees get axed. They go on with business as usual."
"Maybe we'll get a better handle on them this time. Go on, Jimmy."
"Well, then I looked up the latest shipment from the museum. It was a display of Native American jewelry that was supposed to be headed for the Gotham Museum of Natural History. But in the shipping company's records it's listed as going to Smith and Brown. I don't know how he's going to cover up this one…"
"Never mind that. Most likely Gotham Museum isn't expecting any such shipment. Besides," Clark said, "if we can prove this, it will stop here."
"And," Lois added, "it'll make a terrific story. 'Museum Director Smuggling Artifacts.' I think it's time that we did a little hands-on investigation. Tonight."
"Well, Clark, if we can find that shipment and prove that it came from the museum and has been illegally sent somewhere else—"
"All right," Clark said, throwing up his hands. "If I don't go with you, I know you well enough to know you'll go on your own. One of these days we're going to get arrested for breaking and entering. Then think of the headline!"
Lois gave that comment all the attention it deserved and held out her hand for Jimmy's sheaf of computer printout. "Mind if I have a look at that?"
"It's all yours. I've got to go get my photo equipment into top shape, anyway. Perry's sending me with Maurice to cover the game this Saturday."
"Game?" Lois asked.
"You know, Lois," Clark told her. "New Troy State versus Gotham U. Football," he added helpfully.
"Oh." Lois's voice was less than enthusiastic.
"Yeah," Jimmy said, missing entirely the tone of voice. "This one's kind of different."
Lois raised her eyebrows. Jimmy nodded. "New Troy's starting quarterback is a genuine prince, believe it or not. He's the heir to the throne of Lower Tanzanika, and his 22nd birthday's the same day as the game. That's the day he comes of age," Jimmy added, as Lois still looked blank.
"And," Clark said, "I've got tickets."
Lois threw him a look of resignation. "I hope you're not expecting me to go, are you?"
Clark grinned, feeling like the cat that swallowed the canary. "Only if you want an exclusive interview with Prince Bobbo himself."
"*What*?" Lois's voice was a squeak of surprise.
"Crown Prince Khalim Umbobolo Lusoto III, of Lower Tanzanika has personally sent us passes to the game, with seating in the section reserved for his guests, and graciously promised us an exclusive interview afterwards," Clark told her smugly, enjoying the look on her face. It wasn't often he got a reaction like that out of Lois.
"Wow! Cool, CK!" Jimmy said, awed. "How'd Perry swing that?"
"He didn't actually," Clark said. "The Prince is an old friend of mine. We met twelve years ago when I was traveling. He was just ten years old and about to be sent to the States for school. We were at an Embassy function, and I told him a lot about America, and helped him with his English, since I was the only person around anywhere near his age who spoke his language well. We've corresponded pretty regularly since then. Bobbo's grown into a fine man. He'll be a good king. He's got a lot of ideas about democracy, and modernizing his country."
Jimmy stared at him. "Man, CK! You've done some really cool stuff. How come you never talk about it?"
"People that talk about themselves all the time are boring, Jimmy," Clark said dismissively. "Anyhow, Bobbo wrote me and told me about the game, and his coming of age, and the coronation next month, and invited me to attend with my wife." He grinned at Lois's face. "He knows about you and wants to meet the famous Lois Lane. Shall I call him and decline?"
Lois had begun to recover her equilibrium. "Only if you want to die young."
"Just a second…" Lois twisted her little picklock a final time. "Got it!" The lock clicked back.
"Good work." Clark lowered his glasses and took another look around. "I don't see anyone."
"Okay." Lois eased the door open and they slipped inside.
The offices of Smith and Brown Ltd. were located in an ancient building in one of the poorer sections of town. Not the most promising location, Clark thought as he scanned the structure with his x-ray vision. The rugs were worn, the furnishings second hand, at least. More like third or fourth, he amended after a second look. The main office on the second floor looked just as seedy as the rest of the building when Lois unlocked the door and pushed it open.
A shabby desk and chair met their gaze, with a stack of magazines that had nothing to do with whatever business Smith and Brown actually conducted. They continued on through the tiny room and into another, also locked. This one was a little larger, with a slightly less shabby desk and chair, a dingy carpet and a large, metal file cabinet in the corner. Lois zeroed in on that.
The locked cabinet yielded files, kept surprisingly well, especially considering the rest of the place. Lois ruffled through them while Clark kept his ears tuned to the sounds in the surrounding area. He could hear the footsteps of the lone security guard as he made his rounds through the empty rooms. A scurry of tiny feet told him that a mouse or two had taken up its residence within the walls, and somewhere outside a couple of tomcats dueled.
"Clark! Look at this!" Lois whispered.
"It's a bill of lading. The museum crate is at a warehouse over on Bessolo Boulevard. Let's go!"
"Okay. But if you don't want to get caught, you better close that cabinet up quick and hide. The security guard is on his way up here."
"Oops." Lois eased the file drawer shut and tiptoed over to stand behind the door. Sure enough, a minute later the doorknob turned, the door opened and a light shone around the room. After a few seconds it closed again and Clark heard the lock click. He floated down from his resting place on the ceiling.
"I think we'd be safer going out the window," he said very softly. "There's no one around to see us."
"I think I've found it," Clark said.
Lois turned from her sentry post to see her husband carefully lifting a stack of crates with one hand, while he removed a medium sized one from the pile with the other. "Is that it?"
"Yeah." He set the crates back as delicately as he had raised them. "This is it, all right."
"The label doesn't match." Lois illuminated the rough, wooden side of the crate with her penlight. "This says it's a pair of Tiffany lamps."
"Trust me, that's it. They've put another label on over the old one. Take a look at the address."
"Aaron Van Doren. Who's he?"
"He's the owner of a very exclusive antiques import and export business in downtown Metropolis. We've been there a couple of times. 'Antiques International'."
"How do you know?"
"I did a story on his business when he first opened in Metropolis about three years ago. It was when I was pretty new at the Planet."
"And of course you remember all the details," Lois said.
"Naturally." He put the crate back on the pile. "We found what we came for. Now I guess we better do some research. We need something to take to the police."
"How about the crate?"
"Lois, we're breaking and entering, remember? How are we going to explain how we got hold of it? We're going to have to do this the hard way."
"Where do we start then?"
Clark regarded the contents of the crate once more with his x-ray vision. "I'd say with Mr. Van Doren. Somehow I doubt this is the first time he's received stolen goods. I wonder if he's an art collector?"
The next morning at the Planet, they began their search.
"Jimmy," Lois said. "I need you to dig up everything you can on a Mr. Aaron Van Doren."
"What kind of a name is that?" Jimmy asked. He held the usual morning box of doughnuts under one arm and munched on a sugared one as he spoke.
"I think it's Dutch." Clark said. He snagged a cake doughnut from the box, bit into it and spoke around the mouthful. "This guy's an antiques dealer. He owns 'Antiques International' in Metropolis. But last night we found out he's the one that Native American jewelry collection is being sent to. We want to know his background, and anything that might not be quite right. You know the drill."
"Okay," Jimmy said. "Sounds like you could be onto something. I'll get right on it."
"Thanks, Jimmy." Clark clapped him on the shoulder. "If we have some way of proving Van Doren's gotten other illegal shipments, maybe we can trace them back to Dr. Abbott, and expose his rather inept thefts. I'm sorry he has debt problems, but robbing the museum isn't the answer."
Lois, on the way back to her desk, paused for a moment. "Clark, that meteorite. Dr. Abbott may have gotten rid of it, too—it's probably in the collection of some rich guy who collects things like it. Rare items or something. Maybe even Van Doren."
"Maybe," Clark said. "But it's not an art object."
"Who says he only collects art objects? Or even just antiques? But since it was 'stolen' we probably wouldn't be able to trace it the same way."
"I'm afraid not," Clark said, a note of regret in his voice. "I'm afraid it's just plain gone."
"Meteorite?" Jimmy asked.
"That one that was dredged out of the harbor a couple of months ago," Lois explained.
"Oh, that one. I remember you wrote an article about it. You think Abbott sold it, too?"
"Probably," Lois said. "He reported it stolen, but considering what you found out about him yesterday it seems likely. Anyway, the thing now is to stop him before he does it again. Who knows how many items he's stolen? It's plain old theft from the people of Metropolis. It'll make a great story." She continued on toward her desk. "I'm going to finish that article about Superman foiling the jewelry store holdup this morning, Clark. Perry can probably get it into the afternoon edition."
"Right. I'll try calling our usual sources. Maybe Bobby Bigmouth can find out something." Clark headed for his own desk, dropped into the chair and grabbed his phone. "I wonder if he'd like an all-you-can-eat gift certificate for that new seafood place…"
"If you're talking about Ahab's Seafood Galley, he's been drooling over it for two weeks," Lois said. "He hadn't been there yet, as of yesterday."
"Okay, Ahab's it is." Clark began to punch in Bobby's number.
They had been working steadily for several hours when Lois's phone rang.
"Lois Lane." Clark heard his wife answer, then turned at her next words. "Hold on, Mother. Slow down. What's wrong?" Clark resisted the urge to eavesdrop and waited. "What? Well, is she all right? When? I'll be there as soon as I can." She set down the receiver, biting her lip.
"Lois, is everything all right?" Clark spoke in quick concern.
"That was my mother," Lois said unnecessarily. "It's Lucy. You knew she's going to New Troy State, now, didn't you? She was sick last night, and her roommates thought it was the flu, but this morning it was much worse. She was just rushed to Metropolis General; they think it's a burst appendix. She's being taken into surgery right now, and Mother wants me to come. I don't see how I can refuse. I mean—"
Clark was on his feet. "Of course you've got to go. Do you want me to take you over?"
"No, I can drive. You stay here and keep working on the story, all right? Make my excuses to Perry for me. I'll call you later and let you know how she is."
"All right. If you're sure…"
"I'm sure." She picked up her coat, gave him a quick kiss and hurried toward the elevator. Clark watched her leave, then headed for Perry's office to let their boss know where she had gone.
Bobby Bigmouth called back that afternoon. Clark answered and almost didn't recognize the man's voice at first.
"Bobby? Slow down. Do you have the info I asked about?"
"I sure do. Look, Clark, I'm taking a big risk telling you this. I don't want to say anything over the phone. Can you meet me someplace where we won't be seen?"
"Where and when?"
"I'll meet you at the old chocolate factory over on Palmetto in half an hour. You know, the one that closed down about five years ago. It's deserted."
"I'll be there."
Bobby was definitely nervous, Clark thought half an hour later as he scanned the area. There was no one around but the two of them, but the man kept looking over his shoulder, and started violently at the scurry of a rat somewhere behind them in the darkness of the deserted building. His eyes kept shifting about, and his voice held an edge that Clark wasn't used to hearing in the normally casual informant.
"I gotta make this quick," he told Clark. "I talked to a guy I know who knows about this Van Doren guy. He collects rare stuff—kind of fanatic about it, and he's not too fussy about how he gets it. The last thing he got, though, it's not for him."
"What do you mean 'not for him'?"
"It's a trade. Some guy at New Troy State who's a collector like him, he's trading it for a favor. Cooperation. Something big's going down at the game this Saturday. Benny wouldn't say exactly. Somebody important's going to die."
Bobby's words were still repeating themselves in Clark's mind two hours later as he sat behind his desk, staring at a blank computer screen. "Somebody important's going to die."
Who? Who was the one person at that game that everyone knew would be there? Bobbo. The football game was being covered by every major newspaper on the Eastern Seaboard because of the significance of the day. Lots of publicity, lots of people; it would be a security nightmare. And the prince's uncle was not, in Clark's opinion, the kind of person who would hand over the reins of power willingly; Bobbo had even admitted to Clark that he and his uncle didn't see eye to eye much of the time when it came to governing the country. Was it possible that he might take more drastic measures to keep his hold on power? But what could an antiques dealer have to do with something like that?
Clark sat turning a pencil over and over in his hands, thinking furiously and, after much internal debate and three broken pencils, finally came to a decision. This investigation had already led him places he hadn't expected. Well, the museum thefts were going to have to be put on hold for awhile. Dr. Abbott's sorry little racket was unlikely to come to light in the next few days, and even if it did the scoop wasn't important in comparison to a man's life. He was going to have to concentrate on Van Doren's "trade", and try to find out the whole story. He had until Saturday. If he and Lois couldn't unearth an assassination plot with a trail like this to follow in three days—assuming that there really was one!—they weren't the team everyone said they were.
The first step was background. Clark began to call up information on his friend's country, and the current Prince Regent. A short time later, when Perry came by to peer over his shoulder, Clark was reading the print that filled his computer screen.
"Clark? What's this? 'The Recent History of Lower Tanzanika'?"
"Yeah, Chief. I'm researching it for a story."
"Clark, I don't think you need to go into that kind of depth for an interview with the Prince."
"It's not that, sir. I think someone may be planning to kill him." Clark glanced up at his boss. "That's why I was checking up on some background material. Nothing I've read so far gives me any reason to think differently." He frowned at the screen. "Actually, it matches up with what I already pretty much knew, or guessed from Bobbo's letters."
"His letters? Don't tell me you and he are pen pals?"
"Not exactly, sir. We met not long before he came to the States for school. We've sort of stayed friends ever since, and generally write about once a month. He uses me for a sounding board, and sometimes I've given him advice when he asked for it."
Perry's eyebrows had crawled upward, but he merely said, "I see. Go on."
"Well, Bobbo's position is kind of delicate. His father, Khalim Umbobolo Lusoto II, died in a hunting accident a month before he was born. Who actually fired the shot that killed the King was never solidly established. What's interesting is that the brother between the King and the current Regent also died under mysterious circumstances about two months before the King's death, which put Prince Kharim, the next brother, in line for the position of either the new King, or as Regent, in case the baby turned out to be a male, which he did."
Perry shoved his hands into his pockets. "I didn't think that kind of thing happened in modern times."
"Well, that was twenty-two years ago, remember. Lower Tanzanika may be small, but it's still an absolute monarchy. Believe it or not, the ruler is the ultimate power." Clark swiveled around to face his editor. "Bobbo sort of has plans to change that, but he's going to have a lot of opposition, and he knows it. He's an intelligent man, and he understands a lot more than anyone back home gives him credit for. His people barely know him, though, because he's been kept here except for very short trips back to his native country. There's some controversy about a young, Americanized prince taking over for his uncle after twenty-two years of his rule."
"I can see that the circumstances might cause him some difficulties," Perry said. "But somebody trying to kill him?"
Clark nodded. "A lot of the Regent's supporters are pushing for the Prince to step down for the good of the country. When he turns twenty-two on Saturday, he's of age to be crowned King and that means the Regent's power is pretty much over. Kharim likes power. I can't quite see him handing it over so easily. And one of my informants gave me some really disturbing information today." He went on to relay the gist of Bobby's tip. Perry was frowning when he finished.
"I can see why you're worried," he said finally. "And that really isn't enough proof to take to the police. But what do you think you can do about it?"
"I'm going to try to come up with the proof. Anyway, even if Bobbo isn't the target, if there's a murder planned it still needs to be investigated."
Perry grinned suddenly. "Who am I to argue with one half of Lane and Kent? Your instincts are usually right on target, so go ahead. Just be sure you get some sort of story out of it. And be sure you get your latest in by deadline."
"Oh, right, Chief. The bomb at City Hall. Superman found it and threw it into the stratosphere. I got a quote from him. They think it was a disgruntled employee. I'm waiting for one more call back from a source, and it'll be ready."
"I'll be here awhile longer," Lois said. Clark's enhanced hearing picked up the sounds of the hospital in the background. Somewhere a speaker was calling a Code Blue, and in the far distance, the wail of a siren could be heard. Lois's voice sounded tired; not surprising, he reflected. She'd been at the hospital for four hours now in the company of her mother. Ellen, never the easiest person to get along with, was undoubtedly driving her crazy right now, he surmised. He and Ellen usually got along all right together, with a moderate amount of effort on his part. Lois had just enough of Ellen's personality that they constantly grated on each others' nerves, no matter how hard Lois tried to be tolerant. He was glad he didn't have to be in the waiting room with them.
"How's Lucy doing?" he asked.
"She's out of surgery and in recovery," Lois said. "They were right; it was a burst appendix. She's going to be on antibiotics awhile for the infection, but they think she'll be all right."
"Well, when she wakes up, give her my love," Clark said.
"Okay. When she's awake enough to remember. Anything on the investigation?"
"Actually, yes." He gave her a quick summary of what he had found out so far. "Jimmy's still working on Van Doren's background, but he hasn't dug up much yet. There doesn't seem to be any record of him anywhere before he came to Metropolis three years ago."
"That's a little suspicious by itself."
"I'd say so. I'll keep an ongoing summary of what's happening so you can read it over when you get back, in case I have to…" He let the sentence trail off, knowing she would interpret it correctly: in case he had to run off and be Superman somewhere. "Anyway, Jimmy hasn't quit trying. He may come up with something yet."
"All right. I'm probably going to be late. Mother doesn't want me to leave yet. Do you think you can get along without me for a little while longer?"
He chuckled at the teasing tone in her voice. "Well, it won't be easy, but I guess I'll manage. When you do drive home, be careful. It's snowing."
"I'm perfectly capable of driving in the snow, Clark. I've lived in Metropolis all my life."
"I know. But be careful, anyway."
A sigh at the other end of the phone. "I will. Concentrate on the story. And if you have to go out, *you* be careful!"
He gave a sheepish laugh. "Yes, ma'am."
"I've got to go. Love you."
"I love you, too." He heard the receiver click down on the last word and slowly hung up the phone. A glance at the windows showed the flakes drifting steadily downwards, with no signs of letting up, and then his super-hearing cut in with a suddenness that made him start. Somewhere in the building a radio was announcing a multi-car accident on the parkway; a van had spun out and cars behind it were piling into each other, the drivers unable to see far enough ahead because of the snow, and going too fast to stop on the wet, icy road. The disaster was still in progress as the report was being broadcast. Clark was out of the newsroom within seconds and streaking through the air toward the parkway. Superman was certainly going to be needed today. It inevitably happened with the first snow of the season. He always expected it, and so far had never been disappointed, although he would like to be, if only once. What was it, he wondered bitterly, as he swooped down over the scene of smashed and twisted vehicles, that made people drive in conditions like this as if they were on an open road on a dry, sunny day? It defied logic, and inevitably led to tragedy. And they never learned. He braked to a stop, inches from the ground, and headed for the first candidate, a blue subcompact with a young woman trapped behind the wheel. The screams and cries of victims echoed around him in the snowy air. Superman bit his lip, and ripped the car door from its hinges.
When he returned to the newsroom four hours later, he felt tired and discouraged. In spite of all the herculean efforts of the rescue teams and the help he had been able to give them, there had been several fatalities. He'd expected it, but it didn't make it any easier. Christmas was only a few weeks away, and now some families would have reason to mourn rather than reason to celebrate. He wished Lois was here; it would have helped just to see her, but she hadn't returned.
A note on his desk attracted his attention. Lois had called while he'd been out. Lucy had had complications, and Lois and Ellen were back in the waiting room again. He called the hospital, and Lois came to the phone to assure him that the situation was under control, however her mother was quite upset and begging her to stay. She could hardly refuse at this point, so it would still be some time before she got home. After she hung up, the newsroom seemed somehow empty in spite of the other people around him. Clark sighed and began to clean off his desk. He had already phoned in the story on the accident and was ready to call it a day, assuming that nothing else happened requiring Superman's attention. Considering the light but steady snowstorm, it seemed likely that he would be busy several times tonight.
Dinner consisted of Ho-Hos, Ding Dongs and an entire box of Twinkies, washed down with a soda. Lois wasn't here, so he didn't feel like going to the trouble of cooking. While he ate he listened to the news on television, alert for any disaster requiring Superman's presence, but it seemed as if people had taken a warning from the parkway disaster earlier and were being more careful—at least he hoped so. When the sports report came on he perked up, but the only major football game had been canceled due to heavy snow. Local news had a segment on the upcoming contest between the Gotham Bulldogs and the NTSU Spartans being played this Saturday, and a short piece on the starting quarterback. A recent photo of Crown Prince Khalim of Lower Tanzanika showed a handsome young man with skin the color of polished ebony, and a build that would rival Clark's, smiling into the camera. Bobbo looked every inch a prince in Clark's opinion, and he swore to himself that he wouldn't let anything happen to his young friend if it was within his power to prevent it.
The Eleven O'clock World News followed, and Clark was about to turn off the set when a report caught his attention.
"In other news, the escalating tension between Upper and Lower Tanzanika heightened today when the Prince Regent of Lower Tanzanika accused the government of its neighbor of border incursions, and of attempting to destabilize the uneasy truce that has existed between the two countries for the past five years, during this delicate time of transition of power between the current Prince Regent and the soon-to be new King…"
That was basically the extent of the information, but after he turned off the set, Clark sat staring at the blank screen for several minutes. It sounded to him as if the Regent was trying to do a little destabilization of his own. That couldn't be a coincidence. He added it to all the other facts and suspicions he had gathered during the day and made a reluctant decision. If there was a plot to kill Bobbo, he needed to find out as much as he could. Two seconds later, Superman rocketed out of the brownstone's bedroom window and made a beeline for the offices of Antiques International, and of Aaron Van Doren.
The offices were closed up tight, but locks and alarms were no barrier to a determined Superman. He entered on the third floor and closed the window carefully behind him, then spun back into Clark. In black jeans, black shirt and black cap, he moved quietly though the darkened rooms and located Van Doren's office. A moment later he was inside, and scanning the room with his x-ray vision.
The big desk in the center of the room had a concealed drawer. That much was obvious to him. He scanned the documents thus revealed, and removed the tiny camera he had brought with him. It had been a gift from Jimmy for his birthday last year, a miniature spy camera, with his initials on the case, from "Spys 'R' Us" and given to him almost as a joke, but now it came in handy. He found the drawer's catch and opened it. What he was looking for lay on top in a plain manila folder. Diagrams of the university campus, security schedules, a receipt, and a current photo of Bobbo. Carefully, Clark photographed everything, then put it back exactly as he had found it and closed the drawer.
Carefully he scanned the surrounding area, looking for anything that might give him further evidence. This wasn't enough to bring in the police, although it told him more plainly than words that his young friend was in danger. The small, comfortably furnished conference room adjoining the office drew his attention, and he went into it, still scanning.
There were comfortable chairs, a large, central table, and a sofa against one wall next to a bookcase that took up one entire wall. A bookcase which his x-ray vision could not penetrate.
Carefully, he scanned it. It had to be lined with lead, and he had seen its duplicate before—once in the office of Dr. Sam Lane, and in various other places—one of which was his own living room. Only those hadn't been lead lined.
The catch gave under his hand and the bookcase opened outward. As it did, he felt a flash of familiar pain shoot through his body, contracting every muscle of his body. He staggered back, the camera dropping from his hand, and he fell to the plush carpet, knocking over a tall lamp in the process. That was the last thing he remembered before he passed out.
A security guard, responding to the noise, found him there five minutes later.
Lois Lane entered the front door of 348 Hyperion Ave. at nine o'clock the next morning. If she ever went through another day like the last one, she thought, she'd rather be *in* the hospital bed. Then, at least, she could pretend to be asleep. She hadn't seen or talked to her husband in person since the evening before, although she had caught a glimpse of him on television, freeing victims of that horrific car accident yesterday afternoon, and she had had enough of her mother's company to last her the rest of the year…although that wasn't all that far away, come to think of it. She had called once, late the night before, but got only the answering machine, so she figured Clark was out doing Superman things. He was probably at the office by now. She had decided to take a short nap and then go in to work when the phone rang.
If this was her mother again, she thought she'd scream. Lois picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi, Lois. Is Clark there?" It was Jimmy. "Perry told me to call and find out if he was planning on coming in today."
"I just walked in, Jimmy. I thought he'd be at work. Just a minute, I'll see if he's upstairs." Lois hurried up the steps, receiver in hand. The bed was made, with no sign of having been slept in. Either Clark had tidied up before he left, or he hadn't slept in their bed last night, which was possible if Superman had been extremely busy. "He's not here, Jimmy. Maybe he's out on a story."
"Well, he hasn't called in."
"If I see him before you do, I'll remind him," Lois said. "He probably got really involved in something and forgot."
"Maybe. Okay, I'll tell Perry he's already out. See you later." Jimmy hung up.
Superman must be really busy for Clark not to even call the office, she thought. Lois went slowly back downstairs to replace the receiver on the charger. She'd gotten very particular about that ever since the phone had given out in the middle of a call from one of her informers. As she did so, she noticed the blinking light on the answering machine. Ah, that was it. Clark must have called and left a message.
The message was the one she had left last night. He hadn't been home since then. Slowly she went to the television and switched it on. The morning nine o'clock news was being broadcast on Channel 7, and she listened while she opened the refrigerator and rummaged for something to eat.
The leftover chow mein from two nights ago met her eyes. At this point she would have eaten anything, and she stuck the carton into the microwave, punched in the time and hit start, only half her attention on what she was doing as she listened to the news report.
There was a fire in Suicide Slum, a big one. The fire department was on the scene; the speculation was that the fire had started because of someone's attempt to keep warm, and the firefighters were having difficulty bringing out all the victims, but there was no sign of her husband. Where was Superman? Surely he would be at the scene of such a disaster!
The smoke pouring from the microwave alerted her to the fact that she had set the time for 20 minutes instead of two. She shut off the device and stared in distress at the blackened Chinese food. Well, she sure wouldn't be eating that!
She dumped the burned mess in the garbage and fished around in the cupboard for the Pop Tarts. The Twinkies were gone; she'd noticed the box sitting on the coffee table when she had come in. Clark must have been in need of a sugar fix. But where had he gone? And more importantly, why hadn't he come back, or even left her a message?
A twinge of worry began to nibble at the edges of her mind. True, it was hard to hurt Superman, but it could be done.
Come on, Lois! she told herself. Let's not turn into a worry-wart just yet! Maybe he's doing some investigating and just hasn't been able to call. Where were his notes? He'd said he was going to keep a running record of everything he found out or suspected so she could be up to date on his investigation in case he couldn't be there.
The notes were sitting next to the coffee table in a neat folder. Clark was always neat and methodical about his work; she'd learned that not long after they had first met. He organized things, backed up his computer files and kept records carefully and completely. Her own disorganization must have driven him crazy at times, but other than an occasional remark ("Don't you back up your files on a floppy disk?") he had never let on. Now she sat down, munching a cold Pop Tart, and read them completely, grimacing slightly at the dry, starchy taste of her breakfast choice.
When she had finished, she sat, frowning at nothing. Clark was worried about his friend, that was certain. What if he had gone to do some investigations on his own and run into trouble? Even Superman could get in over his head on occasion. She had seen it happen.
Suddenly she was no longer sleepy. Dropping the half-eaten Pop Tart into the trash can, she hurried upstairs to shower and change for the office. Maybe she could figure out where Clark had gone from information on his computer, or maybe Jimmy or Perry would have some sort of clue. In any case, there wasn't any time to waste. Instinct told her that Clark might be in some sort of difficulty, and it was up to her to find out what it was and get him out of it, if possible. If he was still alive.
She stifled the negative thought at once. Of course he was still alive. If he wasn't, she would know.
"Here's everything on Van Doren that I've got so far," Jimmy told her. "It isn't much, but I've got a few more places to try. I told CK that I'd make it a top priority."
Lois took the single sheet of paper. "Clark said you couldn't find anything on him at all prior to three years ago?"
"Nothing." Jimmy grimaced in frustration. "It's as if he didn't exist before then. Do you suppose he's in the Witness Protection program, or something?"
"If he is, he doesn't deserve to be, from what Bobby Bigmouth said about him," Lois said. She bit the end of her pencil, considering. "If he's involved in some sort of scheme to kill somebody, and we know he received at least one stolen item, then I don't think we need to worry about exposing him, do you?"
"Well, I don't think so, but the Feds might have a different viewpoint," Jimmy said.
"I doubt he is, anyway," Lois said. "If you do dig up anything, I'll bet he's some kind of plain old criminal who's just found a good place to hide. Van Doren probably isn't even his real name."
"For an ordinary crook, he's sure got a lot of money," Jimmy told her. "He's definitely in the millionaire bracket. I'll keep digging, though."
"Good. Jimmy, did Clark say anything before he left about investigating Van Doren, last night maybe?"
Jimmy shook his head. "Nope. He'd been down at that pileup on the parkway and was pretty upset about it, from what I could tell. He said several people were killed. You know Clark. That kind of thing bothers him a lot."
"Don't tell me it doesn't bother you, too, Jimmy," Lois said with a smile. "I wouldn't believe you."
"Well, sure it does. But it just seems to hit him harder than the rest of us. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I do." Lois sighed, her mind returning to Clark's whereabouts. So far the only lead seemed to be Van Doren. Clark usually didn't do much of the breaking and entering thing by himself. Most often it was because she was engaged in it, and he didn't want her to go alone. Still, if he was worried enough, he might have done something of the sort. And from what he'd told her, he was very worried. Anyway, it seemed like her only lead.
"Lois!" Perry's bellow cut through the general noise of the newsroom. "Can I see you in my office a minute?"
She turned to obey. "Keep at it, Jimmy."
Perry was sitting behind his desk when she opened the door to his office. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yeah, honey, I did." He waved her to a chair. "You can't be in this business as long as I have without bein' able to sense it when somethin' isn't right. Lois, where's Clark?"
"I don't know." Lois answered honestly. "I called last night, and he wasn't home, and he wasn't there this morning. The bed hadn't been slept in." She got to her feet and began to pace. " I called his parents before I left home. They haven't heard from him. I'm afraid he's in trouble."
"You got any idea what it might be?"
"Maybe." She paced a little more, willing to let Perry see the fear she had hidden from the other members of the newsroom. "He's really worried that this Van Doren character is somehow behind a plot to kill his friend—you know, the Prince?"
"Yeah, I heard. It figures. That kid has friends everywhere, people you'd never expect."
"I know." She smiled a little. "He told me once that he'd learned ballroom dancing from a Nigerian princess."
Perry lifted an eyebrow. "If it was anybody but Clark, I wouldn't believe it. So, what do you think we should do? Report him missing to the police?"
"I don't know. We aren't *sure* there's anything to be worried about, yet."
Perry just looked at her.
"I know, I know," she continued. "I'm worried, and so are you, but I'm not sure the police will be. I'd like to talk to Van Doren, maybe get a look at his offices. If Clark went over there to do some snooping last night, I might find out something. What do you think?"
"I think it's a long shot, but it's the only possible lead we have at this point," Perry said. "Tell you what; I'll arrange an interview with him for you, if I can. That will give you an excuse to see him. But if you don't turn up anything by tomorrow, I think we should call the police. Okay?"
Lois hesitated, then nodded slowly. "I think that's a good idea. They won't do anything much until he's been missing for 48 hours, anyway. In the meantime, I'm going to call my contacts. Maybe they've heard something, or will hear something. "
"Good idea. I'll get hold of this Van Doren character while you're doin' that. 'Antiques International', right?"
The interview with Aaron Van Doren was scheduled for three o'clock, and by that time Lois was ready to climb the newsroom walls. She hadn't told Perry, but she was getting downright scared as the possibility that Clark had merely gone undercover dwindled. If he had, he would still have found a way to get a message to her and no such message had arrived. Even more important, Superman had yet to make an appearance. Snow still fell intermittently, increasing the hazards on the parkways; there had been several accidents on snow-covered streets today, and one fatality. The snow plows were working overtime, but conditions were bad. Worse, a plane had made an emergency landing at the airport; there had been some doubt, until it had actually been on the ground, that the pilot could land safely, and still there had been no sign of Superman. All her instincts were screaming at her that something was badly wrong, that Clark was in real trouble.
Just before it was time for her to leave, she turned to Jimmy. The young man had been working all day in an effort to produce some results in his fruitless search.
"Jimmy, get your camera. I'd like you to come along with me."
Jimmy leaned back from the computer and stretched. "Sure. I'm not getting anywhere here, anyway." He got to his feet. "What's the scoop?"
"We're going to visit Aaron Van Doren. It's possible he's had something to do with Clark's disappearance and, in any case, I'll need some help. If I need a distraction, I'm counting on you to give me one. Okay?"
"Sure, no problem." Jimmy reached for his camera bag.
"I'm going to interview him for a little puff piece and look around his offices if I can. Got it?"
"Right." He followed her up the ramp to the elevator. "I tried a new angle, by the way. We may be able to get some information on Van Doren through my dad."
"Did you call him?"
"Yeah. He wasn't in, but the guy I talked to at the N.I.A. said he'd give him my message. I sent Van Doren's picture, and all the information I had to them."
"That was smart. If anybody can find out about a man who sprang out of nowhere, it's a spy agency."
"That's what I figured." The elevator doors opened, and Jimmy stood back to let Lois enter first. "If my dad can't find out something, then there's really nothing to find out."
"Which none of us believe for a minute." Lois punched the button for the underground parking lot. "I just hope it's not too late by the time he gets back to you."
Aaron Van Doren was a tall, good-looking man somewhere in his mid-fifties at a guess, with thick, wavy, blond hair and just the beginnings of a paunch. His fair complexion was reddened somewhat from the effects of sun and wind, which somehow overshadowed his pale blue, almost colorless eyes. He greeted Lois and Jimmy with great politeness when his secretary showed them into his office.
"Ms. Lane, is it? And…?" He glanced inquiringly at Jimmy.
"James Olsen," Lois told him. "My photographer."
"Of course," the man said. "Mr. White didn't mention that there would be a photographer."
Lois didn't answer, but smiled brilliantly at him. What was that accent? Aaron Van Doren spoke English flawlessly, but, by his accent, English was not his first language. He gestured at a door to one side of the large office. "Why don't we sit in the conference room? We might as well be comfortable."
"All right." Lois preceded him through the door. Jimmy hung back.
"Sir, do you mind if I take a few pictures of your office? Just for background."
"Be my guest." The man shrugged. "When you're done, join us in here."
"Thanks." Jimmy began flashing pictures, covering every angle of the office. Lois and Van Doren took seats in the small room, Lois in an armchair, and the owner of Antiques International on the sofa.
"Now, Ms. Lane, what can I do for you?"
Lois smiled disarmingly. "Our paper is doing a series on some of the more prestigious businesses in Metropolis," she explained. "Sort of a 'Who's Who' among the business community. How long have you been in Metropolis, sir?"
Jimmy came in while Van Doren was answering, and moved around the room, apparently looking for the best angle for a shot. Lois asked several questions regarding the kind of merchandise imported by the company, pausing for an occasional photo by Jimmy, and moved on to the history of the business. And it became rapidly obvious that, in spite of the annoying distraction provided by Jimmy, she wasn't going to be given the chance to snoop. Van Doren never left her side for a moment, whether for the sake of courtesy, or another, more sinister motive. The best she could do for the moment was to gain a general impression of the place and make mental notes for later use, if possible.
When the interview was concluding, Jimmy, who had seated himself in another armchair, rose to his feet. "I'd like one or two photos of you, sir. Would that be all right?"
"Of course. Where would you like me to stand?"
"Stay right there for the first one, sir. Just lean back and look casual."
Lois glanced at him as he fiddled with his equipment. What was Jimmy doing? The interview had been almost sickeningly bland, and they had found out essentially nothing of importance, but Jimmy was treating the photos as if they were critical. He asked Van Doren to sit up straight and look professional, then to smile pleasantly for another shot. It seemed, in fact, that he was taking an unnecessarily large number of pictures, and she was about to put an end to the session, when Jimmy lowered the camera.
"I think I have enough," he said. "Thank you, sir. I'm sure some of those will be exactly what my editor wants." He smiled, beginning to fit the cap back onto the camera lens. "I'm sorry about all the flashes, but I wanted to be sure I got the best possible sho…oops!" As he spoke, he fumbled the lens cap and dropped it. It fell to the floor and rolled under the sofa. If Lois hadn't been watching him closely, she wouldn't have seen his fingers flick the thing in the direction of the couch, and she was sure Van Doren, with the blue afterimages caused by the multiple flashes floating before his eyes, hadn't seen it at all.
Jimmy got down onto his hands and knees and reached far under the sofa. After a moment he rose to his feet, lens cap in hand. "Sorry about that." He looked a little flustered. "Thanks again, sir."
It wasn't until they had left the building that Lois turned to her companion and asked the question that had been foremost in her mind since Jimmy's little performance in the conference room. "What was that all about?"
"This." Jimmy reached into his pocket. "I saw it lying under the sofa. Here. He must have dropped it." He withdrew his hand and put Clark's miniature camera into her outstretched palm.
Lois stared at the camera, the initials C.K. clearly stamped on the case, with the feeling that the ground had just dropped from under her. Clark had been there, and lost his camera. The fact that he hadn't retrieved it scared her more than she would ever admit, even to herself. It meant that he hadn't been able to do so.
The night air was damply cold, and the streets, if not entirely deserted, were certainly less populated than they would be on an ordinary night in Metropolis.
The heavy snow had finally eased up, although the occasional flake still fell; whether they came from the thick layer of grey clouds overhead or were blown from the roofs of snow-coated buildings, Lois didn't know. She only hoped that the conditions were such that few would be interested in a lone figure moving about the offices of Antiques International.
If this had been the actual antiques store, she knew she wouldn't have stood a chance, but the office building was located at some distance from the retail outlet. She had cased the place carefully that afternoon, then caught a grand total of three hours of sleep, and now was ready for her venture, her secret weapon, a can of foam sealant, in her pocket.
The side door, mostly out of sight of persons in the street, was her target. With the can of sealant, she immobilized the alarm and a few moments later the lock clicked back. She eased the door open just far enough to slide through, and then closed it quietly behind her.
Lois knew what kind of risk she was taking this time. It had been a while since she had attempted breaking into places equipped with alarms and other security devices without Clark along to play sentry, but now her husband might be in serious trouble and nothing was going to stop her from trying to help him. On cat feet, she hurried up the stairs to the third floor and the offices of Aaron Van Doren. Once she ducked around a corner to avoid a security guard and froze, holding her breath until the man's footsteps faded into the distance, then she was at the door of the office. Moments later she slipped inside and closed it behind her. Quickly, she made her way to the little conference room where Jimmy had found the camera, and began to explore.
Clark must have been standing fairly close to the sofa when he had dropped the camera, she reasoned. Otherwise it wouldn't have rolled underneath the piece of furniture, but would have lain out in the open and been found. What would he have been looking at here, next to the bookcase? A book?
Lois stood, shining her flashlight around the area for several minutes before the answer occurred to her. He *had* been looking at the bookcase; she had seen this design before. Barring minor differences, it was exactly like the one in her own living room—the one which concealed the hiding place for Clark's Suits. It took her only a few minutes to retrace the movements her husband had made the night before and find the catch. The bookcase swung slowly outward, and she flashed her light inside.
The space behind the bookcase was dimly lit with a night light. Lois stepped into the hidden room and, after ascertaining that she would be able to open the door from inside, let it close softly behind her. Again she stood still, shining her light around more boldly now.
The room was windowless. Now why wasn't she surprised about that? But if she turned on the light, no one would be able to see it from the outside. With another careful glance around, she flipped the light switch.
The first impression she had was of a high class junkyard. About her on shelves, tables, on the walls and even dangling from the ceiling were…items. On one wall was a painting that she recognized; the excitement when it was stolen from the Louvre two years ago had been memorable. On a corner shelf stood a statue that she also remembered; four months ago it had been presented by the Mayor of Metropolis to a visiting head of state, and the resulting flap when someone stole it the same night had occupied the front page for three days. There was a stuffed Tasmanian wolf, a species extinct for most of the 20th Century. The items were rarities. That was what Bobby Bigmouth had told Clark about Van Doren. He collected rare items, was kind of a fanatic about it, Bobby had said, and he wasn't too fussy about how he acquired them. Well, that much was obvious. Lois stood looking around at the incredible chaos of rare items, almost dazed. Was this what Clark had found? But, if so, why had he disappeared?
And then she saw it.
She had the impression that she had been staring at it for several seconds before it registered, but when it did she felt a shock of recognition. It sat in a glass case, in the corner opposite the statue, an irregular piece of rock about the size of a football. Its exterior showed signs of exposure to extreme heat, slagged and blackened in a terribly familiar way. She had seen it in a photograph often enough to have memorized every facet of its appearance.. It was the meteorite Dr. Abbott had reported stolen from his museum only a couple of months ago, the meteorite that had been dredged out of Metropolis Harbor, which had had such a devastating effect on Superman. All at once everything made horrible sense.
Clark had been exposed to the meteorite's radiation when he opened the bookcase. If he was still alive, and she had to believe he was, he was somewhere without his memory, either as a prisoner—and if he was they could have him *anywhere* by now—or just possibly wandering around the streets of Metropolis, scared and alone.
For a long moment she stood frozen, her mind spinning in circles, but among all her jumbled thoughts, one fact stood out clearly.
She could not leave this monstrous thing here. In spite of the risks, she somehow had to get it away and put it somewhere that it could never harm Clark again.
Clark might be in this building or he might not be. The chances were that if he was a prisoner, he had been moved long since. But the meteorite was here, within her grasp. If she waited and they figured out that she had been here, everything could vanish, the meteorite included. A ticking time bomb, just waiting to ambush Superman again.
There really wasn't much of a choice to make, and she knew it. In spite of the fact that in doing so she would give away her presence here, and they just might make the connection between Clark's break-in, her interview with Van Doren earlier this afternoon, and the theft, she didn't see any other option.
Moving deliberately, Lois crossed the room to the glass case. The rock inside looked harmless enough to the naked eye. Only three people on Earth knew what it could do, so why had Van Doren gone to the trouble he had to steal a meteorite?
A small, metal plaque on the inside of the case caught her eye, and she leaned forward to read the printing on it.
REMNANT OF NIGHTFALL ASTEROID Destroyed by Superman November 29, 1993
Lois stood still for another long moment, taking in the information. If it was true, it explained a great deal. How they could tell that this was a piece of the giant asteroid she had no idea, but she was sure there were ways. Dr. Klein could probably tell her…
Of course! That was exactly where she should take it! Dr. Klein could examine it and lock it in the S.T.A.R. Labs Kryptonite vault. He was the one person she could trust with the knowledge of what this thing was and the damage it could do, because he already knew about it.
Lois carefully lifted the lid of the glass case and removed the meteorite. It was heavy, but not too heavy for her to carry. She tucked it under one arm, grimacing at the weight. Time to get out of here, now, before she was caught.
The snow had begun to fall once more, she saw, when she emerged from the side door of the office building at last. She made her way to the Jeep, parked half a block away, and let out her breath when she slid into the driver's seat and closed and locked the door behind her. She set the meteorite on the floor in front of the right passenger seat and threw a piece of newspaper over it. That should conceal it well enough until she could get it to safer quarters. She started up the engine and drove quickly away, careful to observe all the traffic laws. The last thing she needed was to get stopped by a cop right now.
A glance at her watch showed her that it was past two a.m. She checked a second time to be certain she had not read it wrong. No, it was two in the morning, all right. The time she had spent in the office building certainly hadn't seemed that long, but she hadn't been paying attention to the time, after all. With one hand she pulled off Clark's black, knit cap and shook her hair free, then reached for the cell phone. Dr. Klein might not like being awakened at this time of night, but she wasn't about to wait to get this dangerous piece of mineral someplace where it could do no more harm.
"Hello?" Dr. Klein's sleepy voice answered on the tenth ring.
"Dr. Klein?" Lois didn't realize until she spoke that she was trembling all over. Reaction, she tried to tell herself firmly.
Her body wasn't listening to the sensible message her mind was trying to convey. Her voice was shaking so hard that she stuttered over his name. "It's Lois Lane."
"Lois?" Dr. Klein's voice sounded suddenly more alert. "What's the matter? Are you in trouble?"
"Yes, kind of. I've got something…I don't want to talk about it over the air. Can you meet me somewhere?"
"I'll meet you in front of…the lab." Dr. Klein seemed to grasp the idea that she didn't want to mention details over the phone. "In about half an hour?"
"Thank you." Lois had to clear her throat. "Thank you."
"I'll be there as soon as I can." The phone on the other end went dead.
Dr. Klein pulled up behind her barely five minutes after she had arrived. He jumped off of his motorcycle and hurried up to the driver's side of the Jeep. Lois opened the door and scrambled out.
"Lois, are you all right?"
"I…Yes, I'm all right…I think. Dr. Klein, I've found the meteorite!"
"The meteorite! The one that…affects Superman!" She took a deep breath, and realized suddenly that her knees felt weak. She sat down hard on the car seat.
Dr. Klein bent over her. "Are you okay?"
She nodded shakily. "I think so. Look, I've found the meteorite…and I'm in trouble. Can we get this thing locked up, please?" She turned and reached down to drag the object lying on the floor onto the front seat.
"Holy moly!" Dr. Klein's exclamation caught her by surprise and she stifled a giggle. Then she saw that he was staring at what she held. She looked down.
The upper face of the rock was glowing with a thousand tiny shifting points of green and red, glittering and sparkling in the darkness. She felt the breath catch in her throat. "Kryptonite!"
Dr. Klein reached out to touch the blackened, incongruously beautiful surface of the meteorite with one finger. "Yes, I'd say you're right. So this was the cause of Superman's problems all along. A unique combination of red and green Kryptonite…"
"Oh, uh, yes. This way, Lois." He stood back to let her out of the car. "We better get this into the vault." He seemed to consider something briefly. "Uh, do I want to know how you happened to find this?"
"Oh. Okay. What kind of trouble are you in?"
Lois handed him the meteorite and stood up. "I'm not sure." She drew in a deep breath and blew it out. "Let's get inside and I'll explain. I…don't like standing out here in the open right now."
"It looks like an ordinary meteorite in normal lighting." Dr. Klein was examining the thing under the bright lights of his lab. "I'll give it a closer examination tomorrow, but there appears to be something buried just under the surface on this side." He scraped at the rock with a fingernail. "I've never seen anything quite like it before."
"Me, neither." Lois rubbed her face. The adrenalin rush of her earlier activities had long since worn off and the fatigue of having had barely three hours of sleep in the past tension-filled twenty-four was beginning to tell. "Dr. Klein, could this be a piece of Nightfall? The person who…had it thought it was."
"It could be. It might explain Superman's first bout with amnesia. It would certainly be consistent." Bernard Klein looked keenly at her. "You look tired, Lois. If you're in some kind of trouble, maybe I can help."
She shook her head. "I doubt it."
"Well, why don't you tell me about it? You know you can trust me."
She nodded, and rubbed her face again. "I found this in the possession of the man who stole it—or had it stolen—from the museum. He's a collector. Anyway, I found it by accident—I was trying to find out…" She broke off. "Dr. Klein, Superman and Clark were investigating this man and they've disappeared. Superman may have been exposed to the meteorite, and…" Again she broke off. "I found some evidence that they'd been there. I'm afraid something has happened to them. But when I found this, I couldn't just leave it there! And if they figure out I had something to do with it's disappearance, they may come after me, too. That's why I had to get it to a safe place. I'm pretty sure they can't trace it here because they probably haven't noticed it's gone yet, but they will by tomorrow. I'm a little afraid to go home."
Somehow Dr. Klein seemed to be following the thread of her rather incoherent explanation. He nodded gravely.
"Hmmph! I don't blame you." He rested a hand on the blackened stone. "I'll lock this up in the vault in a lead box. Nobody will see it, I promise you, Lois. And I hate to say it, but I don't think we should give it back to the museum, either."
She couldn't suppress a small laugh. "I think you're right."
"Good." He hesitated, seeming a little embarrassed. "If you're afraid to go home, I guess I could offer you the spare bedroom at my place."
Lois looked up in surprise. Dr. Klein's face was distinctly pink, but he didn't look away. "I mean, I'm not much protection, but at least no one would know where you were."
She smiled at him, touched by the gesture. Dr. Klein didn't say much, but he'd proven himself to be a good friend to Clark and her over the last year. "Thanks, Dr. Klein, but I think I'll get a motel room. Just please keep this thing safe!"
He looked relieved. "You don't have to worry about that. If Superman's all right—and I sure hope he is!—he's never going to have to deal with it again." He rubbed a finger over the burned rock once more. "I'm going to run an analysis of this tomorrow. I think I can determine if it *is* a piece of Nightfall, at least to my satisfaction, by comparing it to the analyses of the other pieces that have been found. There are five that have been authenticated, you know, in different museums around the world. They should give us enough information for a comparison."
In the Jeep once more, Lois rested her head against the back of the seat for a moment. God, but she was tired! And she still didn't know what had happened to Clark. He wasn't dead; she was almost positive of that, but if he was wandering around out there on the streets of Metropolis without his memory, how was she going to find him? If he was a prisoner—less likely, but still possible—finding him was going to be even harder, unless his memory came back and he got away on his own. And how long *would* it take for his memory to resurface? The other times he had been exposed to it, his contact with the radiation of the meteorite had been limited to a few seconds at most. Who knew how long it had been this time? And if it *had* been a longer time than the previous ones, would it take longer for his memory to come back? Would it *ever* return?
"Oh, Clark!" she whispered to herself. "Please come back to me!"
After a few moments of succumbing to self pity, she sat up and resolutely wiped her eyes. This was getting her nowhere. She had to find some place to stay for the night, then figure out her next move. Her cell phone lay on the seat. She had kept it turned off most of the time for the last few hours, but now she picked it up and dialed her home phone number. When the answering machine came on, she punched in the code that would replay her messages. If Clark had started to recover his memory, she thought, he might try to call her.
There were seven calls from her mother, one from Jimmy to tell her that he had developed the film in Clark's camera, and one from Perry.
"Lois, if you get this message call me right away, even if it's two in the morning! This is urgent!"
Lois glanced perfunctorily at her watch. It was four o'clock in the morning. With a devout prayer that Perry really meant what he said, she punched in his number.
"H'lo?" Lois cringed mentally at her editor's sleepy voice.
"Chief? It's Lois. I'm sorry I woke you up, but…"
"Lois, honey, are you all right?" Perry's voice was suddenly wide awake.
"Yes. What's the matter, Perry?"
"Thank Elvis! I've been worried sick! Your snitch, Bobby Whats-his-name, called me at home because he couldn't get hold of you! He wouldn't leave a message on your machine, and he wouldn't tell me what he wanted to pass along to you, but he wants you to call him right away. Said it was life or death. He was scared out of his wits, or I don't know snitches! Are you *sure* you're okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Where are you? I tried callin' you a couple of times, but all I got was your machine, so I hung up. Last time was about midnight."
"I'm in my car. I've…been busy. Trying to find Clark."
"I'm callin' the police in the mornin'," Perry told her. "Clark found somethin'—I saw the pictures he took when Jimmy finished developin' 'em."
"Not enough evidence, but it's beginnin' to look more and more as if he was right. Go on and call your Bobby Whosits. If it's an emergency, you don't want to wait too long. And Lois…"
"For Elvis's sake, call me if you need help. Or if Clark…Well, if you find him."
"I will, Perry."
Lois hung up, biting her lip. It was obvious Perry didn't hold out much hope for Clark, but then he didn't know about Clark's alter ego. Clark was alive. He had to be. After debating for a few moments, Lois called Bobby Bigmouth. This was certainly her night for waking people up at ungodly hours, she reflected as she listened to the phone ring.
Bobby Bigmouth didn't sound at all sleepy when he answered the phone.
"Bobby, it's Lois. What's the emergency?"
"You sure took your time to call," Bobby said, sounding testy. "I haven't dared to close my eyes all night!"
"I'm sorry," Lois said. "I didn't get your message until a few minutes ago. What's wrong?"
"What, you never sleep? Look we gotta meet as soon as possible. There's an old chocolate factory over on Palmetto—"
"The one that went out of business five years ago?"
"That's the one. I'll meet you there in half an hour. And be sure you're not followed. If I see anybody but you I'm gonna disappear and you can deal with this yourself. Understand?"
"Deal with what, Bobby?" Lois frowned into the dark. Bobby didn't sound like the Bobby Bigmouth she knew.
"Never mind. You're gonna owe me big for this one." The line went dead.
The old chocolate factory was on the edge of Suicide Slum. Along with other businesses in the vicinity, it had become a victim of the general deterioration that permeated the whole area. The doors were closed, the windows boarded over. Graffiti smeared every flat surface of its outer walls that could be reached by a tagger with a can of spray paint, and debris littered the ground. The snow had gathered in little pockets here and there, pristine and white in the light of the single working street lamp, but in other places it had been beaten into a muddy, brown mess by the shuffle of many passing feet. It was snowing again, though, and the dirt and grime were slowly being covered with a veneer of white.
Lois pulled her Jeep as close to the building as she could and sat still for a long moment, surveying her surroundings.
Except for the lazily drifting flakes, nothing moved within her range of
eyesight. At this hour, and this temperature, almost everyone was under some kind of cover. The dirty tenements with their broken windows and "condemned" signs were probably shelter to more transients and homeless than she could count.
Something moved at the edge of her vision. She turned and saw a shadowy form in the shape of a man gesture cautiously to her, beckoning her toward the cover of an alcove with a threadbare, overhanging awning. For a long moment she hesitated, and the gestures became more insistent. Then she caught a glimpse of the profile as the man turned, and she recognized Bobby Bigmouth.
She opened the door and got quickly out. The arm gestured her back into the alcove, and as soon as she approached within an arm's length, he seized her wrist and pulled her into the shadows.
"Were you followed?" he demanded.
"For Heaven's sake, Bobby," she snapped, the vehemence not reduced in the least by the fact that she was whispering. "It's four-thirty in the morning! What person in his right mind is going to be out following somebody at this hour? What is this emergency?"
Bobby didn't answer directly. He pulled her after him, and through a broken door. "This way."
Once inside, they stopped. Bobby let go of her wrist and turned to face a particularly deep, black shadow. "It's okay," he said gently, and Lois was stunned at the difference in his tone. "You can come out. This is Lois."
Slowly a shadow moved within the other shadow, and took on the form of a man. The faint glow of the streetlight that filtered through the boarded up window reflected off of glasses, and Lois knew all at once who it was.
"Clark?" The word was a half-sob.
Clark moved cautiously out of the darkness to within a few feet of her. Lois didn't move for a long moment as she took in her husband's appearance. His clothes were torn, and the front of his dark shirt was streaked with rusty stains that could only be blood. He was wearing a coat that was obviously second-hand and a little too tight, but his glasses were still in place, although one lens was cracked completely across. He had a heavy five o'clock shadow, and he looked lost and scared, exactly as she had imagined he might, wandering around the huge city without his memory. He stared intently at her, and slowly his expression changed to one of half-recognition.
"This is Lois," Bobby repeated, still in that gentle tone. "She's your wife. She'll help you now, Clark. It's gonna be all right."
"Clark?" Lois stretched out a hand to him, and he took it without hesitation. She gripped it tightly. "Thank God you're all right!" She turned to Bobby. "Where did you find him?"
The informant shrugged. "He was hiding in the subways. Didn't have a coat, either—I don't know why he didn't freeze to death. Does he always wear a Superman undershirt? Nah, don't answer that. Somebody I knew recognized him and called me—the word was out that you were looking for him. I had the devil's own time convincing him I was on his side, though. He was scared half to death. I took a big risk, I'll tell you! I've been hiding him at my place since about eleven last night. I think somebody tried to kill him."
Lois squeezed Clark's hand more tightly. She had very little doubt that Bobby was correct. Probably only the fact that he was Superman had saved his life. Whether his memory would return was another question altogether.
"Thanks, Bobby," she said. Her voice came out sounding choked. "You're right, I do owe you big. More than I've ever owed you before, and I'll see that it's paid." She had to clear her throat sharply. "How about a gift certificate to that new steakhouse—the Metropolis Sagebrush Barbecue Pit? I hear it's pretty good."
"You know, Lois, you've got class!" Bobby said, with sudden enthusiasm. "I've been wanting to try that place."
"Consider it done," Lois said. "I'll get it for you tomorrow. Is that okay?"
"Sure!" Bobby grinned widely, the first grin Lois had seen on him that morning. He turned to Clark and patted him on the shoulder. "You go with Lois, Clark. She'll take good care of you. You'll be your old self in no time." He glanced at Lois. "You let me know how he is later, Lois. He's a good guy. All the snitches know Kent's as good as his word."
"I will." A thought occurred to her, a possible solution to the problem of Van Doren's collection of illegal "rarities". "Bobby, I need to tell you something. I can't go to the police, but you can. I can't be connected with this in any way. I found something tonight…"
Succinctly she described what she had discovered. Bobby's eyes widened as she talked. When she finished, he pursed his lips in a low whistle.
"You know, they aren't gonna go in there just on my word, don'tcha?"
"I know. But they can watch him. He won't be able to make it disappear easily until Clark and I find a way to pin something on him. Can you relay the information—without letting on that I told you?"
He seemed to consider that for a long moment, then nodded. "Sure. But just be sure you add a tip onto that certificate." With that, he turned and vanished out the door, leaving Lois and Clark alone.
"I've found him, Perry," Lois said quietly. Snow brushed softly against the windshield, collecting against the wipers in little drifts, and the hood of the Jeep was blanketed in white, gleaming luminously in the dimness. "He's kind of shaken up, but he's going to be all right, I think. Bobby thinks somebody tried to kill him."
"Do you need any help, honey? A doctor or anything?"
"No, not right away. I'm going to take him to see his own doctor in the morning. He'll be all right until then. He's mostly just very tired. I'm pretty tired, too, so we're just going to get some sleep."
"That's a real good idea," Perry said. "You get some rest. I'll expect you at work when I see you. Tell Clark I hope he feels better soon."
Lois turned off her phone and glanced at Clark sitting in the seat next to her. He was looking at her, obviously waiting for her to decide what to do next. She smiled and reached out to take his hand again. She couldn't seem to stop doing that. It was just so good to have him here, safe, even with the problems of his memory loss still to cope with.
"I think we should check into a motel for the day, Clark. I'm dead on my feet, and you don't look much better. After we've had a few hours sleep we'll both be able to think more clearly."
"Okay." He glanced out at the lightening sky. "Don't we have an apartment or a house of our own, or something? Bobby said you're my wife."
"I am. We've been married about two months. But after what happened to you…well, I think somebody might be after me, too. I don't want them to find us until we're both more…ourselves."
"You mean…until I've started remembering things." His voice was low and hesitant. "How do you know that I will?"
"Clark, you will!" Resolutely, she pushed any doubts to the back of her mind and spoke with all the conviction she could muster. "This has happened before, and your memory always came back. It will this time, too."
"I've done this before?" He sounded incredulous. "And you were still willing to marry a man who apparently loses his memory without any warning and can't remember you? Only…" He paused uncertainly.
"Only—I sort of do. I knew when Bobby brought you in there that I could trust you."
She started the engine and pulled out onto the icy street. Snowflakes drifted down endlessly, almost like powder, to be swished away by the wipers. She squinted, trying to see through the soft, glittering cloud that sparkled a muted pink in the subdued light of pre-dawn. "It's a long story, Clark. You don't really make a habit of this. It isn't your fault, and it's never going to happen again because Dr. Klein and I will see to it that it doesn't."
He frowned at the windshield. "How do you know? Am I some sort of mental patient or something?"
"No, of course not!" She spoke sharply. "You're a very successful investigative reporter, and the man I love!" She took a breath to get her voice under control. "Look, when we've both had some sleep, I'll explain the whole thing. There's a reason all of this happened, and why it won't again. You have to believe me, Clark. I know what I'm talking about, but it's just too complicated for me to go into now, as tired as I am. I haven't had more than three hours sleep in over a day and I'm exhausted."
"Because of me."
"No! Well," she amended, "only partly. After I knew you were missing. But you would have done the same for me. Look, just trust me on this. It *will* be all right, and I'll clear it all up for you after I've had a nap." The last word was almost smothered in a jaw-cracking yawn.
"Are you sure you can drive all right?"
"Yeah. At least long enough to get us to a motel." Another yawn. Clark grabbed the wheel as they almost swerved into the curb. With the stress of Clark being missing removed, she realized drowsily that fatigue was catching up with her. She shook herself awake and concentrated on her driving.
She woke with Clark shaking her gently. They were in the parking lot of the EconoTel, and she was in the passenger seat. She yawned hugely and forced her eyes open. "Did I fall asleep?"
"Yeah. I had to take over," he said, sounding apologetic. "I figured it was better than crashing. Is this place all right?"
"It's no Lexor, but it'll do." Lois pushed the door open and got out, bracing one hand on the Jeep. She couldn't remember when she had ever been this tired before.
Later, she barely remembered crawling into bed. She did recall snuggling up to Clark and his arm around her as she fell asleep, but everything else was a blur. Her dreams were full of pointless action and made little sense, and when she woke, it was with the guilty feeling that she had overslept and missed an important appointment. Her head felt thick, as if it were stuffed with cotton, the usual effect of having stayed awake too long and not slept long enough. She was cuddled tightly against another warm body, and the sound of quiet breathing reached her ears. Carefully, she turned her head.
Clark was there, sound asleep. He no longer wore his cracked glasses, and now, in the light that had crept into the room around the edge of the drawn shade, she could see the faint crusting of blood on his nose and upper lip. A nosebleed? Superman had had a nosebleed?
It had to have been the Kryptonite, she decided. How long had he been exposed to that stuff? And how had he wound up hiding in the subway?
At least she had him back now, and he was safe. The rest they could cope with. It was funny, she reflected drowsily, that she should be worrying about the most powerful of all men, the man who boosted rockets into orbit and burst through brick walls without a scratch. But even Superman occasionally needed someone to look out for him while he watched out for the whole world, and that was her job. A job that very much needed to be done.
Lois pulled her arm free of the blankets and squinted at her watch. She sat up abruptly. It was one-fifteen in the afternoon!
Clark opened his eyes and looked up at her for a long moment, then he blushed. "The room only had one bed," he began. "And you wanted me to get in with you…"
"Clark, we're *married*! It's all right, really!"
"Yeah, I know. I just didn't want you to get the wrong idea. You were pretty tired, and I…didn't want you to think I was trying to take advantage of you. I mean…"
Honestly, this nobility stuff could get wearing really fast. "I may *want* you to take advantage of me later tonight. It depends on how tired I am. But, Clark, you're my husband. Just because your memories have gone temporarily AWOL doesn't change that. Yesterday I was afraid I'd never have you lying next to me in bed again. You have no idea how that felt."
He reached up to stroke her face with one finger. "Maybe I do. When I saw you there this morning, it was like I was hit by lightning or something. I still couldn't remember anything, but somehow I knew it was going to be okay. Does that make any sense?"
"Oh, Clark, of course it does." She put her own hand over his and held it to her cheek. "And it *is* going to be all right, I promise. But now we need to get up. I want to take you to see Dr. Klein so he can examine you and try to find out how much damage was done. And before I do that, I need to explain a few things."
While Clark was showering, Lois fetched the sweatsuit she kept in the back of the Jeep for just such unforseen emergencies. Her own clothes would do until she could retrieve the spare outfit she kept at the office. They weren't exactly professional, but they would pass. Clark, on the other hand, couldn't possibly escape notice in what he was wearing—*either* of the outfits he had been wearing!—especially considering the dark growth of stubble on his face, and until he remembered how to use his heat vision, there wasn't much they could do about it. Besides, when she took him to S.T.A.R. Labs, he was going to have to go as Superman. That had taken some real convincing, even with the evidence of the Suit, since he didn't remember Superman, either. But the motel supplied a complementary toiletries kit left with the soap, washrags, towels and so forth, and at last he had to admit there was no other explanation for what had happened to the razor when Lois had demonstrated on his beard.
While she waited, she called Dr. Klein and let him know she was coming in with Superman, and then, bracing herself, she called her mother.
Ellen was as upset as Lois had expected. Why hadn't Lois answered her calls yesterday? Her own sister was in the hospital, and Lois hadn't seen fit to call her, or even find out how her mother was holding up under the strain! Lois gritted her teeth, waiting for her to run down, then, at the realization that it would take too long, she seized the opportunity when Ellen paused to take a breath to break in.
"Mother! I didn't even get your messages until four in the morning! I couldn't call you then!"
"Well, why didn't you say so? Honestly, Lois…"
"Mother! Clark was mugged yesterday! I did call the hospital about Lucy, and I sent her flowers, but I…"
"Well, never mind that. I'm going to see her this afternoon. Are you coming with me or not?"
Lois took a deep breath. "I won't be able to make it until evening visiting hours. I'm taking Clark to the doctor, and Perry expects me in to work sometime this afternoon."
"Oh." Ellen was silent for a moment. "In that case, I'll wait for you. Can we meet there?"
"Of course. We can go together." The bathroom door opened, and the sight of Clark in nothing but a towel momentarily distracted her. "Um, where was I? Oh, yes. Why don't we meet in the hospital lobby about six-thirty?"
It took a little more verbal dancing, but she managed at last to get away from Ellen with the excuse that they were going to be late for Clark's appointment. Lois thankfully set down the phone and turned to her husband.
"Here, Clark, I got the sweatsuit out of the Jeep. It will be less conspicuous than what you were wearing, and you can't wear the Superman suit until it's washed. What *is* this stuff on the shirt, anyway? Oil? Be sure to comb your hair back so you look like Superman, and stand up straight like I showed you."
He nodded, taking the sweatsuit from her. "Are you sure this is going to work?"
"Trust me. At least half of Superman's disguise is his attitude, and the fact that nobody considers the possibility that he might be someone else."
"How about this Dr. Klein?"
"He's your friend, but he doesn't know, either. Just *be* Superman. He won't expect you to remember your powers. You didn't the last time, and he knows what happened to you, at least in general."
"Okay, if you say so." Clark still didn't look convinced, but he retreated to the bathroom to dress.
"The signs and symptoms I see are similar to the ones you had last time, Superman," Dr. Klein was saying two hours later. "Only more severe. I can't tell how long you were exposed to the Kryptonite radiation this time, but there's definitely more physical trauma. I'd say you had a pretty close call."
"But he will be all right, won't he?" Lois asked.
"I hope so. Probably." Dr. Klein didn't sound completely sure. "Given his usual enhanced healing ability, he should repair the damage in a few days to a week, assuming no other complications appear."
"What about the nosebleed?" Lois asked. "There was blood on his shirt and on his nose and upper lip."
"Well…" Dr. Klein shrugged. "We know the effect of the radiation somehow renders him unconscious, if what happened last time is typical."
"It did the time before that, too," Lois said.
"Then I think we can assume the same this time, as well. It's possible that there was an attempt to injure or kill him. If he was exposed to the Kryptonite for any length of time, it would have rendered him vulnerable for a short interval. If someone struck him several times, a nosebleed would be one logical result." He flashed the small penlight in Clark's eyes again. "Are you having any headaches? Any dizziness?"
"I did at first," Clark said. "When I woke up I had a really bad headache and a lot of dizziness, but there hasn't been any for about a day now."
"He had about six hours of sleep this morning," Lois volunteered. "That may have helped."
"Probably," Dr. Klein said. "The only advice I can give you is the same as last time. Take it easy, rest and recuperate. Things will probably come back in time, although it may take longer than before. At least Lois and Clark can help you with your memories to some extent. By the way, how is Clark?" he asked, turning to Lois. "You said you found them both?"
"Clark's resting," Lois said, glancing at Superman. "He was pretty shaken up and caught a bad cold, but I think he's going to be all right."
"Well, tell him to drink lots of fluids and stay in bed," Dr. Klein said. "He wouldn't want to pass it to anyone else."
"I will," Lois said. "Have you found anything out about the meteorite?"
Dr. Klein nodded. "I've been doing tests on it all morning. It's an ordinary nickel-iron meteorite so far as I can tell. I'm comparing its exact chemical composition against the other known pieces of Nightfall, and so far the results are very indicative…"
"Dr. Klein, in English, please."
"Sorry." The scientist grinned sheepishly. "From what I can tell, it's probably a piece of Nightfall. The thing that makes it different from other meteorites is what showed up on an x-ray, and a plot of its magnetic field."
"What was it?"
"There's a mass inside that isn't nickel-iron. It's quite dense and, judging from the evidence, I suspect it's a piece of Kryptonite, possibly from a collision in space. The flecks on the surface are both red and green Kryptonite, and my guess is that the combination of the two together is what caused the problem. At least we can make sure that it doesn't happen again."
"That's something I'd be happy about," Clark said.
"I completely understand, Superman." Dr. Klein rested a hand on his shoulder for an instant. "It must be frightening not to be able to remember. But the chances are it will pass. Just be patient."
"Where are we going now?" Clark asked as they pulled out onto the street once more. The snow had ended at last, sometime while they were sleeping, and the sun shone down brightly from a cloudless sky.
"The Daily Planet. We've both got spare clothes there, and we can change. We've still got a job to do. Besides, it may help you with your memory—being around the office. Just remember, don't *tell* them you can't remember. If anyone asks, the beard is for our investigation of the possible assassination plot you were working on before you disappeared. I'll handle most of the talking. Just act as if you don't feel one hundred percent, okay?"
"That won't be too hard," Clark said a little dryly.
"I know. We'll just tell the truth. You woke up in an alley with a headache, blood all over your shirt and no identification, and wandered around in a daze for awhile until Bobby Bigmouth found you. You have no idea what happened, but we think someone tried to kill you." She fished in her purse for a comb. "Here. Better fix your hair again. You have to be 'Clark' now."
"This identity thing could get confusing," Clark remarked, accepting the comb Lois held out to him.
"Sometimes." She glanced at him as he leaned forward to look in the mirror and began to adjust his hairstyle. "Clark, what *did* happen to you after you woke up in that alley?"
He handed the comb back, frowning a little in concentration. "I'm not completely sure. I was feeling sick and dizzy, and I knew something pretty bad had happened, but not what. I recall thinking I'd better hide out until I remembered who I was and what the danger was, and I eventually made it down into the subways. After that, I just spent most of the time trying to keep out of sight, until Bobby found me."
"Oh, Clark." She reached out to squeeze his hand briefly.. "I wish you hadn't had to go through that."
He smiled at her. "It wasn't so bad—especially after Bobby showed up. He really had to work to convince me that he was trying to help. But when he finally did, he took me to his place, got me something to eat, loaned me that coat and then did his best to get hold of you…he went to a lot of trouble for me."
"I can see that." Lois considered what he had said. " I've never given him the credit he deserves, I suppose. He was a real friend yesterday. I guess you don't find out who your friends are until you really need their help. I'll get him that gift certificate this afternoon…and his 'tip' for the extra favor. We'll have to be careful, though. We don't want him to get a swelled head."
When they walked into the Daily Planet newsroom, the first person to see them was Jimmy, who hurried up the ramp to them. "CK! Are you all right?"
"Mostly, Jimmy," Lois said. "Do you have those photos for us?"
"I sure do! Wait until you see them. They came out nice and clear."
"Good." As they reached the newsroom floor, she turned to Clark. "Why don't you go and sit down, Clark? The doctor told you to take it easy. Jimmy, let's see those photos."
Perry's door opened and the editor came out. Lois grasped Jimmy by the sleeve and half-dragged him across the room to intercept their boss. "Perry, could I ask a favor?"
"Sure, honey. How's Clark? He doesn't look like he feels too well."
"Well, his doctor diagnosed head trauma, and a possible concussion. They want him to take it easy, but we've got this investigation going, too."
"You want me to keep the pressure to a minimum. You got it. What happened, anyway?"
Lois told them. Perry shook his head when she finished. "Great shades of Elvis! He's lucky to be alive! Okay, I'll be sure everybody goes easy on him. You know, he better start watching his back better or he's going to wind up with brain damage one of these days from too many knocks on the head."
"Tell me about it," Lois murmured.
"Now, " Perry continued, "about that story you were working on when all this started…"
"We're on it, Chief," Lois told him. "Jimmy, can I see those photos now? I want to know what it was that nearly got Clark killed."
"Right." Jimmy almost ran from the office, and met her on the way back to her own desk with the promised photographs. "Here they are. It looks to me like CK got too close for comfort."
"Thanks. Oh, any word back from your father on Van Doren yet?"
"Not yet. If I don't hear soon, I'm going to give him another call, just to be sure they gave him my message."
"Don't take too long. The game is tomorrow." Lois turned and carried the photos to Clark's desk.
He looked up from his computer screen. "What do you have?"
"The photos you took in Van Doren's office." She opened the big envelope and spread them out on his desk. "Jimmy blew them up for us. Look at this." She indicated the first one. "This looks like a security schedule for tomorrow's game. And here's a detailed map of the campus…a schedule of events…and a receipt."
"What's the receipt for?"
"I can't quite tell. It's smudged. It's from Ollie's Uniform Shoppe—that's in downtown Metropolis. They sell all kinds of professional uniforms, like for nurses, security guards…They supply hotel staffs, professional catering services, um…just about any job that requires a special outfit."
"Well, maybe they can tell us what this one was for. There's a receipt number here at the bottom."
"I'll call them." Lois reached for his phone and began to punch in the phone number on the receipt. It rang several times and then a voice answered. A computer generated voice.
"Now that's interesting," she said as she set down the receiver.
"I'm getting a message that the number is no longer in service."
"The receipt is dated less than a week ago. They can't have gone out of business that fast," Clark said.
"I shouldn't think so. They've been around forever. Jimmy!"
Jimmy hurried over to them. "Yeah?"
"Find out about Ollie's Uniform Shoppe. Their number's out of service."
"I don't need to," Jimmy told her. "Somebody torched it last night. I took the photos. They're closed down for repairs until further notice."
"They're sure it was arson?" Lois asked.
"Positive. It was firebombed."
"Oh." Lois looked at Clark. "I suppose it could be a coincidence."
"I take it you don't think so?" Clark asked.
"No, I don't. Not really. Any word from your dad yet, Jimmy?"
"Not yet, but I'll give him a call now and make sure he got the stuff I sent." Jimmy hurried away.
Lois lifted the photo of the receipt and held it to the light. "I take it you can't read it, Clark?"
"I suppose I could if I was able to remember, huh?"
"Let me see." He took it and squinted at it. Lois touched his glasses.
"It helps if you don't look through these. Just lower them a little. Don't take them off."
"Right." He bit his lip uncertainly, lowered the glasses and squinted at the photo. "The ink is smudged. It might be 'welder'."
"I don't think welders wear uniforms," Perry said. Lois turned quickly as Clark shoved his glasses hastily back into place. Their editor was standing behind them.
"Oh, hi, Perry. Did you want something?" Lois asked.
"I was just thinkin', maybe it wouldn't hurt to talk to Henderson. He might not be able to do anything officially, but he could be sure his people are tipped off that somethin' might be in the wind."
"I'll do it," Lois said. "I'll tell him everything we've found out so far."
"That's probably a good idea." He surveyed Clark thoughtfully. "Are you sure you're all right, son? I heard what you said about not bein' able to remember."
"The doctor said it was a temporary thing, Perry," Lois assured him. "His memory is just a little hazy. It's already better than it was. Don't tell anyone, would you not?"
"Don't worry," Perry told her. "It's nobody else's business, anyway." He gave Clark a concerned look. "Don't push it too hard, Clark. I don't want you havin' a relapse or somethin', okay?"
"I'll be fine, uh—Chief." The hesitation was more of a giveaway than he realized, Lois knew. Perry was no fool. She waited for him to comment, but he merely smiled and nodded.
"If you say so. Just do me a favor; try not to let this happen again. My blood pressure won't stand it. Why don't you make that call, Lois."
"Uh, right, Perry. Right away." She picked up the phone, one eye on her boss's retreating back. Perry could certainly be hard to figure out at times.
Henderson was his usual acerbic self when Lois got him on the phone, but he listened attentively to what she had to tell him. When she had finished he was silent for a long moment.
"Well," he said finally, "you two have been busy little bees, haven't you? I'll keep the warning in mind, Lois. The last thing Metropolis needs is to have a royal Prince assassinated under our collective noses. I'd like copies of those photos, and I won't even ask how the Daily Planet got them, since I'm sure you won't tell me. It wouldn't, by any chance, have anything to do with that assault on Kent you reported earlier, would it? Never mind, don't bother to answer that. If any of his things turn up, we'll let you know. Thanks for the tip."
At five-thirty the elevator chimed its arrival, and Lois looked up in time to see her mother step out. Oh, great. This was exactly what she needed.
Clark glanced questioningly at her, and she realized she had muttered the words aloud. She inclined her head toward Ellen, who was descending the ramp toward them in a businesslike fashion. "My mother. You call her Ellen."
He nodded, and turned to greet Lois's mother with a smile. "Hi, Ellen. What brings you here?"
"My God, Clark, you look terrible!" were the first words out of Ellen's mouth. "What on earth happened to you?"
Diplomacy was definitely not her mother's strong point, Lois reflected. She mentally counted to ten and spoke up. "Mother, I told you, Clark was mugged yesterday."
"Well, that's no reason he couldn't shave," Ellen pointed out. "He looks like some transient straight out of Skid Row."
"That's for our investigation," Lois said. "Never mind Clark's beard. Is something wrong?"
"No. I was in the area, and I wanted to make sure you didn't forget we were going to meet over at the hospital at six-thirty."
"We haven't forgotten," Clark assured her. "How is Lucy doing?"
"Much better, thank you, Clark. Now, my nerves are another story. What with not being able to get hold of Lois at all yesterday, I've never had a worse two days in my life. I had to double my tranquilizers, and you know medications are expensive. If—"
"Lois!" Perry strode up to the desk. "I need that article on the Wilson case. Are they going to appeal, or …Oh, hello, Mrs. Lane."
Ellen smiled at the editor. "Hello, Mr. White. I just dropped by to see Lois. Her sister is in the hospital, you know, with—"
"I heard," Perry said. "I hope she's feeling better. You'll pardon me, Mrs. Lane, but we're on a deadline. I need Lois to finish her article and get it to me so I can edit it before we go to press."
"I'm on it, Perry," Lois said. "We'll talk later, Mother. Six-thirty in the hospital lobby, sharp. All right?"
When Ellen had left, Lois said," I already sent you that piece, Perry."
"I know you did, sweetie," Perry said. "I figured you needed help, by your expression."
"I did. Thanks for the rescue."
"Only a temporary reprieve, I'm afraid," Perry said. "But you're welcome. Any more on that other thing?"
"Some. Jimmy got hold of Jack Olsen at the N.I.A. He's checking on Van Doren's background. He says he has a feeling he's seen him before, but he doesn't know where."
"Hmm. That's interesting."
"Yes, it is. Wouldn't it be something if he turned out to be an enemy agent? And we'd have the story."
"Don't count your stories before they're hatched," Perry advised her. "I take it you're going to the game tomorrow. You still have to get that interview with the Prince."
"Wouldn't miss it," Lois said.
"See to it that you don't. But try not to get in the way of any stray bullets, okay? I nearly lost one of my best reporters yesterday. I don't want to go through it again. Next time I might not be so lucky."
Punctually at 6:30, they met Ellen Lane in the lobby of Metropolis General Hospital. The busy hospital had an impersonal air, Lois thought. Staff members hurried past as she, Clark and her mother waited before the bank of elevators. The sound of an approaching siren cut off abruptly when an ambulance entered the hospital zone. A loudspeaker paged Dr. Everard to come to Emergency at once, and a pair of young women in pink uniforms emerged from the elevator that opened in front of Lois, giggling and chattering about a Dr. Jernigan, who apparently, at least in the opinion of the young women, resembled Superman and was the object of the adoration of the whole class. Belatedly Lois noticed their nametags and realized they were nursing students from NTSU, here for their clinical experience.
They rode the elevator to the fourth floor and found Lucy's room. Ellen entered first, and stopped at the sight of her youngest daughter navigating her shaky way across the floor from the small lavatory toward her bed, rolling an IV pole along beside her.
"Well," she said, "I see they've got you up walking. How are you feeling?"
Lucy sank onto the edge of her bed, breathing heavily and clutching her abdomen. "Like my insides have all been beaten with a hammer," she said after she caught her breath. "But better than a couple of days ago." Very slowly and painfully, she slid under the blanket. "I'm starving, though. They haven't given me anything but juice and jello—oh, yes, I graduated to custard today. I'd kill for a hamburger and fries."
"Now, Lucy," her mother said, "you know the reason for that. Your system needs time to recuperate. I remember after my gallbladder surgery I wasn't allowed solids for nearly five days! I'd had complications, you see, and…"
"Here, Ellen, why don't you take the armchair," Clark interposed diplomatically. "It's the most comfortable."
Ellen, neatly intercepted, could only accept gracefully. "Why, thank you, Clark."
Clark smiled at her and turned to Lucy. "Lois and I will have to take you out to the Metropolis Burger Castle when you're out of here, I guess."
"Mmm, don't tempt me," Lucy said. "I've been imagining a Dragonburger Special with all the trimmings and extra cheese."
"You *must* be feeling better," Lois said.
"Well, I didn't want to eat anything for about two days before I got in here. I've got a lot to make up for. Thanks for the flowers, by the way."
"No problem." Lois glanced at the window sill, where several bouquets of flowers were lined up neatly. "You've got quite a few here. Who sent the others?"
"Oh." Lucy pointed to a bunch of carnations. "Those are from my roommates. And those are from Mother, and right next to yours is the one from the Daily Planet. That was really nice of them, since they hardly know me…"
Perry's work, Lois surmised. She'd have to remember to thank her boss. They chatted for a short time until a nurse poked her head into the room. "Dr. Jernigan specified only half hour visits for the first couple of days. Miss Lane needs her rest."
Lois rose to her feet. "Dr. Jernigan? Where have I heard that name before?"
"He's my doctor," Lucy said. "Gorgeous, too. He looks a lot like Superman, but he's married, unfortunately."
"Oh, well, better luck next time," Lois said, grinning at her sister. "We'll try to drop by tomorrow, all right?"
"Okay. Bring me some food next time, will you?"
Clark chuckled. "Let us know when you're allowed solid food and we'll bring you that Dragonburger Special and fries."
"With extra cheese and all the trimmings?"
A brisk wind was blowing when they emerged from the building and started across the parking lot toward their respective vehicles. Ellen's car was parked not far from the Jeep, so they walked together, skirting large patches of ice and muddy, trampled slush. The sun had set, but the lot was illuminated by floodlights set at regular intervals around the perimeter.
As they approached the vehicles, two figures rose out of the shadow of a large van. Lois saw at once, and with resignation, that they were both armed. Van Doren, she thought. They had let down their guard, but he hadn't given up. His goons must have been following them and waiting for their chance.
"We got her, Boss." It took Lois a second to realize one of the men was speaking into a cell phone. "Right where you said."
"Oh, my God!" Ellen's voice rose above the sound of an approaching siren.
"Quiet, lady." The other man's voice was deep and menacing. "All of you, get in your car. Don't do anything stupid and you'll get out of this alive."
Slowly, they moved in the direction of the Jeep, and Lois inserted the key to unlock the door. The two men behind them were silent until the door swung open. Then the same voice directed, "In. And keep your hands in sight. You, blondie, in the back with me."
"What? Not on your life!" The last word ended in a grunt as Ellen was pushed sharply toward the car.
"I said *in*!"
"Mother, don't argue!" Lois said. "Just do what they say."
"Quiet." The man's voice was a low rumble. Lois slid into the driver's seat, glancing at Clark, who had gotten into the passenger side. He was watching her intently, and Lois could imagine the thoughts running through his mind. He was Superman, she had told him, invulnerable to bullets. On the other hand, he had a secret life to protect. On the *other* other hand, he couldn't let Lois or Ellen get hurt.
"Clark," she said quietly. "Don't do anything."
"Drive," said that deep voice in the rear seat. "And don't try anything, Pretty-boy, or the old broad gets it."
"How *dare* you!"
"Drive, lady. Not too fast. Turn right out of the lot."
Lois followed the directions of their unwelcome passenger, and a short time later the Jeep turned into an alley where a large truck waited, the back open and a ramp leading up into the interior. Lois drove up the ramp and turned off the motor. Behind them the doors closed, and there was a clanking sound as they were locked from the outside. The surface beneath them lurched; the truck moved forward, and Lois felt Clark's hand clasp hers in the darkness.
The truck jolted and rumbled on. Now and then it turned right or left. After a time it came to a stop and they heard the engine die. Silence enveloped them.
The clatter and scrape of metal against metal made Lois turn sharply around. Someone was unbolting the doors. Subdued light flooded over them. The man in the back seat spoke again. "Get out."
They were herded down the ramp into the dim interior of what must be a warehouse. Lois smelled sawdust, damp and mildew. Shadowy mountains of wooden crates rose to the right and left. What was it with them and warehouses? she wondered in an irrelevant part of her mind. They seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in them.
Two men were waiting for them as they reached the bottom of the ramp. One was the second man from the parking lot. The other was…
Aaron Van Doren.
The antiques dealer was as perfectly groomed as he had been the last time she had seen him. He waited patiently, looking wildly out of place in his surroundings, his tailored three-piece suit elegant and immaculate in contrast to the dirty warehouse in which he stood. Unlike his henchmen, he carried no weapon in his hands, but he was clearly the man in charge. He stood still, watching them approach, a faint smile on his lips.
They were brought to a halt a few feet in front of them. The two groups stood looking at each other in silence.
"Ms. Lane." His voice was completely courteous. He glanced at Ellen. "Ma'am." His gaze shifted to Clark. His eyes squinted and then widened slightly. "Mr. Kent. I must admit I didn't expect to see you again. Apparently my men were careless. That is unfortunate for them." The last sentence was delivered in a completely unthreatening tone of voice, but Lois suspected the men to whom he referred would not survive the evening. He turned to his prisoners.
"Ms. Lane, I wish I hadn't been forced to this unpleasant expedient, but you left me no choice."
Lois pushed down the shivering that was going on deep inside her and lifted her chin. "I don't have any idea what you're talking about. What the *hell* do you think you're doing? How *dare* you kidnap us! How…"
"The meteorite, Ms. Lane." The words cut her off in mid-tirade.
"The meteorite. You took it. I want it back. It's that simple. You give it to me, and I'll let you go free."
There was a lie, if she'd ever heard one. Van Doren had no intention of letting any of them go, or they wouldn't be here facing him. He had tried to kill Clark once already.
"I haven't a clue what you're talking about, Van Doren."
"Yes, you do. You were photographed by a security camera, carrying the meteorite under your arm. Although others might not have been able to recognize you, I am something of a student of people. I recognized you by your distinctive walk. The meteorite, Ms. Lane."
"You're crazy! I haven't any idea what you're talking about!"
"Let's not play verbal games, shall we not? You're an intelligent woman. You and your husband, Mr. Kent, came separately to my office. I want to know why, and, equally importantly, how you knew about my unique…collection. I intend to have my meteorite back, and I want to know why you took it."
"How many times do I have to tell you I don't know what you're talking about? What's so special about this meteorite, anyway?"
The man smiled thinly. "Then let me explain," he said with exaggerated politeness. "The meteorite has something of a history, you see. It was found in Northern Africa almost two years ago and brought to the United States by…persons with whom I have had a lucrative relationship in the past. Before it left Africa, experts determined that it is an actual piece of the Nightfall asteroid, a true rarity, you must admit. I collect rarities, Ms. Lane.
"When it arrived in Metropolis, the ship on which it was being carried had an unfortunate accident, and the meteorite was lost on the bottom of Metropolis Harbor. I searched for it without result. Then, by chance, it was dredged up, identified, and sent to the Metropolis Museum of Natural History. I recovered my property in my own way."
"You mean you stole it."
"Of course not. The director notified his…contacts that it had been found, and helped his people retrieve it for me. It was my property, bought and paid for. I simply took what was mine. Now you have taken it; I want to know why you took it when there were so many more obviously valuable choices, and I want it back."
"I haven't taken anything. You have me confused with someone else."
Van Doren didn't change expression. He shrugged and spoke to his confederates. "The old woman. Kill her."
"What?" Ellen began. One of Van Doren's henchmen turned and aimed his handgun at her. Clark charged.
The weapon fired. Lois saw Clark take the bullet square in the chest and keep going. He bowled over both men, and then Lois's attention was taken up as she snap-kicked Aaron Van Doren in the crotch. As he doubled forward, she kicked him again, this time in the face. He went down and did not get up.
Abruptly there was silence. Lois took a deep breath to steady her racing heart and surveyed the situation. One of the men Clark had tackled was unconscious on the ground. The second was staring up at him in shock. Ellen stood staring at him, too, mouth half-open. She seemed to shake herself all at once.
"Clark, are you all right?" she managed. "I saw him shoot you…"
Lois stood still for a second, trying to think of what to say, and then she saw something lying on the ground right where Clark was standing. The flattened bullet. She walked casually over to it and picked it up. "He missed," she said, displaying the object in her palm. "Mother, would you get my cell phone out of the Jeep and call 911?"
"What a day!" Lois and Clark walked up the steps to their townhouse. Lois opened the door into the foyer, and they paused in surprise. The inner doors stood open and beyond the opening she could see that the house had been thoroughly ransacked. Clark pulled her back.
"I take it you didn't leave it like this, yesterday," he said.
"No, I certainly didn't."
"My guess is that it was Van Doren's people, looking for that meteorite," he said. "Or for you. Stay here while I take a look."
"How about I just come along with you?" she said as he entered the brownstone. Clark glanced back at her.
"Are you always like this?"
"Usually," she said. "Do you see anything?"
"Only what you do. Do me a favor and at least stay behind me until we're sure no one's here." The look he gave her was a cross between exasperation and pleading. Lois took pity on him and hung back as he methodically checked the house.
No one was there. Lois looked around at the mess and scowled. "If Henderson didn't already have Van Doren on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping and grand theft, I'd have a few words to say to him." She glanced at Clark. "Does anything look familiar to you?"
He shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Dr. Klein wasn't sure I'd ever remember."
Lois heard the distress in his voice and put her arms around him. "Give it time, Clark. It hasn't been all that long yet. When you slammed into the Nightfall asteroid it took over two days for your memory to return. And you were probably exposed to the radiation longer this time."
"What if I never remember, Lois?"
"Then I'll tell you everything I know about you, and your Mom and Dad will tell you everything they know. Together we know a lot. We'll deal with it, if we have to. The most important thing is that I still have you and you have me, and we love each other." She paused and looked sharply up at him. "Don't we?"
He put his arms around her, as well. "Yes. I don't know anything else about you, or myself, but I know that."
"Then it will be all right," she said, putting all the conviction she could into the words. "And we're not giving up yet. Come here, I'm going to show you your Suits. Maybe that will help."
The next hour had an eerie sense of deja vu for Lois. A year and a half ago she had guided Superman around Clark's apartment, showing him everything that should have some meaning for him, telling him about Clark Kent and about himself, neither of them knowing that he was one and the same man, both afraid that Clark Kent was dead. Now Lois told him everything she could think of about him and his dual identity, about his life as an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet and as Metropolis's resident superhero. She told him of his extra-terrestrial origins and about his foster parents, about their sometimes rocky romance and about their two months of marriage. And she told him as much as she knew about his extraordinary powers, drawing on the knowledge she had gained during her short stint as Ultra Woman over a year ago.
When she had finished, he stood looking doubtfully at himself in the mirror, clad in the Suit. "I actually *wear* this out in public? I hope you're kidding me."
"No, I'm not. And you usually wear it under your civilian clothes the rest of the time."
"How about the boots and cape?"
She shrugged. "You never were able to explain how you do that. I'm afraid I don't know. I think that's something you're going to have to figure out on your own."
Clark regarded himself in the mirror again with an expression of distaste. "It's hardly decent."
"Well, your Mom did say that while you were wearing it no one would be looking at your face." She giggled suddenly at his expression. "We'll work it all out later, Clark. We still have a big day tomorrow. The game, and the interview with Prince Bobbo. And I still haven't caught up on my sleep." She eyed him thoughtfully. "And, to tell the truth, as good as you look in that costume, you look even better *out* of it."
He turned bright red. "Um…you go on upstairs. I'll be up in a little while."
"Clark, you don't have to be embarrassed. We're *married*!"
He ducked his head. "I know. I *will* come up in a few minutes. Really."
He nodded. "I promise."
When she came out of the bathroom clad in her nightgown, he had still not made an appearance. With a slight frown, she opened the bedroom door. "Clark?"
"Uh, don't come down!" His voice held a note of alarm. "I'll be there in a minute!"
Lois eyed the grey haze of smoke rising through the air and, with a sinking feeling, hurried down the steps.
The smoke pouring out from under the downstairs bathroom door told her the whole story. She knocked on the panel. "Clark?"
"Don't open it!" his voice said urgently. There was the unmistakable sound of Superman's super-breath, and the volume of smoke abruptly diminished. After a minute, the door opened cautiously. Clark, still in the Superman outfit, stood there looking slightly dazed. Behind him, Lois could see numerous burned streaks on floor, walls and ceiling, some of them still smouldering slightly. The shower stall was going to need a complete replacement, she noted clinically. One of the walls had an enormous burned patch and the sliding glass panel was half melted. But Clark no longer needed a shave.
She began to laugh. She couldn't help it. The giggles kept coming, and every time she looked at his guilty expression they started anew. "Well," she managed at last, her voice shaking, "at least you'll be decent for the interview tomorrow. But I think after that, we need to go someplace less…*flammable*…for you to practice!"
The next day dawned bright and sunny. There had been a partial thaw the night before, and then the temperature had dropped sharply again, freezing the partially melted snow hard once more. The world was covered in a layer of ice, from which the sun glinted blindingly.
They went to the Planet early to finish up a few small tasks before leaving for the game. Jimmy hailed them as they came out of the elevator. "My dad called!"
"Oh?" Lois perked up at once. "Any news?"
"Yeah! They identified Van Doren last night!"
"Well, better late than never," Lois said. "Who is he?"
"His name's Peter Van Groote. He's an arms dealer and a mercenary. He disappeared about three years ago. They thought he was dead, but when I sent my dad that photo, they ran it through their identification system. He doesn't have a mustache and beard any more, but it was him, all right! Interpol's been after him for years!"
"Huh!" Lois glanced at Clark. "Look what we started. An arms dealer?"
"Yeah. He was still in business, too. He's been supplying arms in a lot of those little brush wars between all the newly created African states."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Lois asked of no one in particular. Clark found himself grinning at her tone. "How about his 'collection'?"
"They're still cataloguing it. It's accounting for a lot of thefts over the past twenty years."
"And, thanks to you two, we got the inside scoop on it," Perry said, a smug note in his voice. "Davis is coverin' this latest development for the Planet, but I'll expect a sidebar from you later about the gentleman in question. After my blood pressure goes back down. If I'd known you were dealin' with a character like that, I'd have had heart failure, Lois."
"He wasn't that tough, Chief," Jimmy pointed out. "After all, Lois kicked him in the…"
"Never mind that," Perry said. "Don't you two have a football game to attend? It's a sellout, so you'll want to get there early. The Prince is givin' a press conference right before the game, too, about the unrest between his country and their neighbor. I want you to cover it. Some of his uncle's supporters are apparently suggestin' that the situation makes this a bad time for a new King to take over. Try'n get a quote from him about that."
"We're leaving in a few minutes, Chief," Clark said. "We just had a few things to take care of first." He looked around the room as Lois rummaged through her desk for the recorder she had left there the night before. Did any of the faces of his co-workers look familiar? He thought so, although it could simply be that he had seen them yesterday. It seemed more than that, but he supposed he might be reading more than there really was into it, simply because he wanted so desperately to remember. Patience, Dr. Klein had said. Patience was the key, but it was hard to be patient about a part of his life that was this important.
They pulled out of the underground lot right behind Jimmy and Maurice on their way to cover the actual game. The road leading to the University itself was jammed with cars; the game had been well publicized in the last few days, after all, and it took nearly two hours for them to make their way into the parking lot at Echo Stadium. Lois beat out another car for a parking space and ignored the gesture the other driver sent her way. Clark had to grin in sheer pride at her. And she was *his* wife. It was becoming increasingly clear to him that his judgement had been flawless when he had chosen to fall in love with this human tornado, even if the circumstances eluded him. How could *any* man be this fortunate?
After they locked up the Jeep, Lois took Clark's hand She had been doing that a lot ever since Bobby had brought him to her, and Clark had no objection. Quite the opposite.
"The press conference is at Connell Hall," she said. "That's over to the left and down the street. I checked the map before we left. It's the music conservatory. They're holding some sort of little buffet there for the journalists afterwards."
Jimmy jogged up to them, camera in hand. "Perry told me to go with you to the press conference," he informed them. "Maurice is going on into the stadium."
"Sure." Clark smiled at Jimmy. He seemed a personable, bright young man and Lois had told him how he had found Clark's dropped camera in Van Doren's conference room. Clark liked him, and was trying hard to recall details of their acquaintance. Wasn't Jimmy the one with a new girlfriend every week? That seemed to match, somehow. He would ask Lois later. Now somehow didn't seem the time to bring up that kind of question. Jimmy had on a pair of sunglasses against the glare on the ice which liberally coated everything except the surface of the parking lot They passed trees whose branches glistened like a million diamonds in the morning sun. Even the snow was brilliant. Clark squinted his eyes against the light. The whole world seemed far too bright, and he noted Lois was shading her eyes as well.
Connell Hall was a small, brick building with ivy vines climbing over it. Members of the press were entering as they approached, and Clark could hear the hum of many voices inside. Quite evidently they were not the first to arrive. They followed the signs and made their way to a room where chairs had been set out and a small stage graced one end. It was rapidly filling up with members of the press and various other individuals, one of whom carefully checked their press credentials before allowing them to proceed. Security, Clark assumed. Somehow this whole scene was familiar. A memory? He thought so. He had definitely done this kind of thing before. Sudden hope flooded him. He was beginning to remember, exactly as Lois had said he would.
Inside, people were milling around in no sort of order, all vying for the best seats. A buffet table was being set up to one side of the room, and waiters were laying out trays of hors d'oeuvres for the mob of ravenous press.
Clark closed his eyes. There was something important about this whole scene, something he should remember.
"Clark, are you all right?" Lois's voice cut through his thoughts.
He opened his eyes to see her looking worriedly at him. He nodded. "I'm fine. Something…"
"You're remembering something?"
"Not exactly. Sort of. Something isn't right, Lois."
A tall, dark-skinned man, with hair and a mustache the color of old silver, had mounted the stage and now took one of the microphones. He tapped on the device for attention, producing a sound which made Clark cover his ears. "If the members of the press would please take their seats…"
The noise did not abate. If anything, it became louder. Again that excruciating sound as the speaker rapped on the microphone. "Please, ladies and gentlemen, take your seats!"
Slowly the babble began to die down. Men and women found places to sit, and Lois, Clark and Jimmy somehow found themselves in chairs near the front row, on the left hand side, not far from the tables slowly being loaded with food. Clark looked around, trying to pin down that feeling of uneasiness. There was no obvious reason for it, but something was definitely sounding his inner alarms.
There was a stir on the stage, and the last of the noise died as several persons emerged from the wings. One face among them was suddenly familiar to Clark. He knew this tall, proud young man with the innate air of dignity about him. He drew in his breath sharply. Prince Bobbo. His friend. The scared, ten-year-old he had known, about to be sent to school in a foreign country, was now a grown man. Abruptly that memory was clear in his mind, and with it an overpowering sense of danger.
A waiter brushed past Clark, rolling a cart. A few stragglers were gravitating slowly toward the last remaining seats, but to Clark the air was suddenly charged as Prince Khalim Umbobolo Lusoto III moved toward the bank of microphones in the center of the stage, four men in plain, civilian clothing keeping pace with him.
Clark closed his eyes again, grasping for that wisp of thought. This was all wrong. Bobbo wasn't out of danger. The danger was right here, in this room.
The receipt. Superman had read it that night in Van Doren's office. The uniform wasn't for a welder. It was for a waiter.
He turned his head. One of the waiters had moved forward and was reaching inside his jacket. His x-ray vision came on with a suddenness that almost took his breath away, and he saw the shoulder holster neatly concealed under the smooth, white coat.
No time to run out and change, even if he could think of an explanation for it. His memories, still hazy and indistinct, couldn't supply him with what he needed fast enough.
With a shout of warning he leaped to his feet, shoving two of his colleagues roughly out of the way, and hit the would-be assassin in a genuine football tackle, just as the gun emerged. The weapon discharged into the ceiling, and the two men went down with a crash into one of the buffet tables. Food flew.
"Clark! Look out!" It was Lois's voice. Instinctively, he pinned his prisoner to the floor, body covering that of the other man, as a second shot rang out. Everything kicked into slow motion for Clark. The bullet went through his sleeve, ricocheted off of his arm, exited the jacket and buried itself in the wall. Belatedly, he realized there must have been a second gunman, planted in the crowd to eliminate the first one. If it had not been for his sudden flash of memory, Bobbo would be dead.
Massive confusion reigned. Two reporters had grabbed the second man and wrenched his weapon away from him, and the bodyguards were hustling the Prince out of danger. And then, miraculously, officers of the Metropolis Police Department were rushing into the room. Someone helped him to his feet, and a couple of uniformed officers took custody of the gunman. William Henderson had somehow appeared out of nowhere, his voice cutting easily through the hubbub as he directed the removal of the two men.
The person who had helped Clark to his feet was the silver-haired man whom he had first seen on the stage. He brushed crumbs solicitously from Clark's jacket. "Are you injured, Mr. Kent?"
He shook his head as Lois arrived beside him. "No, I'm fine."
"Your arm! The bullet…"
"It didn't touch me," Clark said, rather breathlessly. "Just the sleeve."
"You're luckier than you deserve," Henderson's voice said, dryly. Clark turned his head to meet the officer's eyes, but the man merely smiled incredulously and went on past.
"Prince Khalim wishes to see you, Mr. Kent. And your lovely bride, of course. This way." Clark found himself and Lois being ushered out of the confusion and through a side door. He glanced down at Lois and put his arm around her. She looked up at him, a question written clearly on her face.
"It's all right," he said, softly. "I remember."
"Anyway," Lois was saying, "the guy Clark stopped from killing Prince Bobbo was one of Van Doren's hired guns. There was an escape plan all worked out for him, but the Regent's people had other plans. It seems the second shooter was one of the Regent's elite bodyguard, and it was his job to take out Van Doren's man and eliminate any connection between him and the Regent. According to Henderson, they found evidence that was supposed to be planted that would set the shooter up as an agent of Upper Tanzanika, and give the Regent the excuse he needed to declare war."
"Sneaky son-of-a-gun," Perry said. "And Van Doren?"
"Business as usual," Jimmy said. "My Dad says he was helping the Regent to kill the Prince and start a war so he could clean up, selling arms to both sides. It's his modus operandi. Nice setup, if it had worked."
"It's all here, Perry." Lois gestured at her computer screen. "Apparently when the N.I.A. showed up to collect Van Doren, Henderson went to them with the information we gave them yesterday. About the time Clark was tackling the gunman, some of Jack Olsen's men were arresting NTSU's Assistant Chief of Security. He was the one who gave Van Doren the security information in exchange for that collection of Native American jewelry from the museum—which is going to be the next thing we concentrate on, by the way. They were only a few steps behind the assassin, but if it hadn't been for Clark they'd have been too late. Actually, Van Doren is a lot luckier than he deserves to be, though. There was a plan in the works to take him out, too. The Regent believes in covering his tracks."
Perry whistled softly, shaking his head. "Talk about wheels within wheels! So how's the Prince taking it?"
"He's fine," Lois said. "He wasn't even very surprised. So now his Chief Advisor is the new Regent for the next three weeks until the end of the semester, when Bobbo graduates and goes home to be crowned. Clark and I are invited to the coronation as his personal guests, and the grateful government of Lower Tanzanika is going to give Clark some sort of medal for saving the Prince's life, whether he wants it or not."
"Speaking of which," Perry said, looking around as if he had just noticed, "where *is* Clark?"
That question was answered as the elevator opened. Clark Kent and Prince Khalim Umbobolo Lusoto III of Lower Tanzanika exited, arm in arm, followed at some distance by the silent bodyguards. The Prince was laughing heartily at something Clark had apparently just said. When they saw the little group gathered around Lois's desk, Clark waved, and the two men came down the ramp to join the others.
Bobbo shook hands with Perry and greeted Lois and Jimmy casually; after all, he had met them some hours ago. "Clark and I are here to pick up Lois and Jim," he said. "I hope you've got that story done, Lois. You said it wouldn't take long."
"I'm finished," Lois assured him. "I'm just about to LAN it to Perry, now."
"Good," Clark said. "Bobbo's driver is waiting out front. We're celebrating NTSU's victory over Gotham, Perry. We've got dinner reservations at the Metropolis Sagebrush Barbecue Pit. A certain friend of ours recommended it highly to me."
"Yes," the Prince said. "This Bobby Bigmouth is certainly unique, but Clark claims he knows his food. I want to hear more about him. He sounds like quite a character."
"Oh, he is," Clark assured him. "He definitely is…"
Lois put down the phone as Clark emerged from the bathroom, clad in his sleeping shorts. She gave a low wolf whistle. He bowed slightly.
"Thank you. The feeling is mutual. So what did Ellen have to say?"
"What else?" Lois said. "I have no family loyalty, or I wouldn't have left her and Lucy alone for so long. My job is going to drive her into an early grave, et cetera, et cetera. The usual."
"Being kidnapped and shot at bothered her, huh?" Clark asked, deadpan.
Lois rolled her eyes and continued as she crawled into bed. "But after yesterday, she thinks I did one thing right, after all."
His eyebrows went up in quick surprise. "Oh? Well, that's an improvement. What was it?"
"I married you."
"Ah!" He grinned. "Your Mom's smarter than I gave her credit for."
Lois stuck her tongue out at him.
"Seriously, though," Clark said. "That was probably the strangest three days of my life. I'm just glad everything turned out all right for Bobbo. And for your sister—and your mother." He slid into bed and pulled the covers up. "And us."
Lois scooted over next to him and he put his arm around her. "Well," she said, "it wasn't your average three days, that's for certain. And part of it was the most horrible twenty-four hours of my life."
He pressed a kiss on top of her head. "I know," he said, very softly.
"I kept telling myself that you were still alive," she said. "But I was scared, all the same. And after I found the meteorite and figured out what it had to be, and what must have happened…"
His arm tightened around her. "I know. You showed incredible courage, Lois, and you did what needed to be done. That thing had to be brought under control. It's stolen my memories three times…"
"Yeah, probably. At least that's over, thanks to you."
"Are they back? All of them, I mean?"
Clark hugged her. "Mostly. I'm sure the rest of the details are just a matter of time. But you know, in spite of everything I didn't lose the most important memory. All four times, when I didn't remember anything else, I remembered I loved you." He stroked her face gently. "Even when I didn't remember you, I did, if that makes any sense. You saved me again, Lois. When Bobby brought you in there and I saw you—all of a sudden I stopped being afraid. It was as if what I was missing was suddenly back and everything else was going to be okay."
He bent his head to kiss her. "You're the center of my world, Lois. Without you I'm nothing. If anything at all came out of this, it made me more sure of that than ever. Superman came about because of you, and it's because of you that he's still here. He couldn't do without you…and neither could I."
The kiss was longer this time, and more passionate. He could feel her press herself more tightly to him. With one hand, he reached out and fumbled with the light switch. The lamp went off. Lois's mouth smiled against his.
"Welcome home, Superman" she whispered.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Doppleganger. Need the previous story? Read Dagger's Edge.
Stories in Nan Smith's "Dagger" series, in order: Dagger of the Mind, Dagger's Edge, Assassin's Dagger, Doppleganger, Blind Man's Bluff, Countdown, Priorities, Vanishing Act, Charade, Heritage, Unforeseen Consequences, Christmas in Metropolis, Daddy's Little Girl, Suspicions, Mother's Day, A Tasteful Lesson, Too Hot to Handle, The Sting, Consequences, Middle School, and Degrees of Separation